Making Vista Field a Town Center to Take Time

By Kristi Pihl, June 11, 2013, Tri-City Herald

The Port of Kennewick’s next steps to transform Vista Field Airport into a town center for the Tri-Cities include creating a specific closure plan and partnerships with key local stakeholders, a consultant said Tuesday.

“This is a huge project by anybody’s standards,” Michael Mehaffy told port commissioners. “And it’s going to take multiple years to build it out.”

Mehaffy, a project manager with Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., suggested the port forge interlocal agreements with the city of Kennewick, the Kennewick Public Facilities District and the Kennewick Irrigation District, among others.

It’s important to involve those stakeholders in the overall development, but the port does need to maintain control over its own properties, Mehaffy said.

One key weakness that needs to be considered soon is the lack of transportation connectivity in the area that includes the airport, the Three Rivers Convention Center and the Toyota Center, Mehaffy said.

“Vista Field is kind of a black hole in the middle of that part of town,” he said.

The ends of the runway should be connected to Deschutes Avenue and Young Street to the southwest and Quinalt Avenue and Kellogg Street to the northeast, according to a consultant report. Across the runway, connections are needed to Grandridge Boulevard and Rio Grande Avenue to the northwest and Deschutes Avenue to the southeast.

Among the proposals would be additional connections in the northeast leading to the Columbia Center mall area and in the southeast to Clearwater Avenue, the report said.

Port Executive Director Tim Arntzen said this project will require patience on the part of the public. The planning process itself could take years.

“This is a huge opportunity,” he said. “It’s also a huge obligation.”

Larry Peterson, port director of planning and development, said it’s difficult to find 110 acres near the center of a growing community available for development.

“It’s worth doing right,” Peterson said. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be right now.”

Port Commissioner Don Barnes agreed.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Barnes said. “I think we need to make sure it is done properly.”

Officials hope to create a town center that provides economic benefit for the Tri-Cities as a whole. Ideas include a river walk and a long, linear public park near where the runway is now.

Redeveloping the airport would open up 75 acres for the potential construction of more than 1 million square feet of retail, commercial, office and industrial buildings, the report said. There also could be 1,400 condos or apartments on the top stories of mixed-use buildings.

The port has the potential to earn $3.7 million after selling the land and paying $11.9 million to close the airport and prepare it for development, including adding roads, the report said.

The port already has asked the city of Kennewick for a comprehensive plan amendment change that would allow development envisioned by the consultant’s report. The city planning commission and city council will consider this summer whether to change the airport property’s designation from “public facilities” to “commercial.”

The port plans to phase the redevelopment so that the project can be paid for using revenue from selling airport property.

Port Commission President Skip Novakovich said closing the airport for redevelopment was the only option that would allow the port to avoid asking for a property tax increase.

Planning for the airport’s closure is under way and some tenants already are moving, Mehaffy said. An exact closure date hasn’t been set, although there’s been some discussion of completing it by the end of the year. The Federal Aviation Administration needs to be notified of the closure date at least 90 days beforehand.

The port commission will have a report by the end of the month with recommendations to minimize impacts on existing businesses, Mehaffy said. It will also address some airport features that could be saved to commemorate its history.

The port commission will discuss the airport closure in more detail at the next meeting, scheduled for 2 p.m. June 25.

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