Port of Kennewick commissioners told key project could set stage for Vista Field development

Kristi Pihl, August 18, 2014, Tri-City Herald

It may look like nothing is happening with the former Vista Field Airport near Kennewick’s Three Rivers Convention Center.


But for six months, consultant Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. has been creating a series of redevelopment and financing strategies to make a bustling center for playing, shopping, living and working come to life.


Remaking Vista Field into a town center could start with a key project, some sort of nucleus that gets people excited and sets the stage for what the development can be, Michael Mehaffy, a project manager with Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., told Port of Kennewick commissioners earlier last week.


Possibilities include a performing arts center, an aquatic center, a university facility or a stadium.


The consultants are picking up where they left off after identifying what redeveloping the 113 acres could mean for the Tri-Cities. The goal is to bring a handful of feasible scenarios to port commissioners to consider and narrow down to what will best fit for the community, Mehaffy said.


The port likely will act as the master developer for the project, with other developers building different pieces. Port commissioners have said they favor a phased, pay-as-you-go development and want to avoid taking on debt.


“We want to find creative ways to bring in private sector capital,” Mehaffy said.


The consultants, port commissioners and port staff have been visiting communities in Washington, Oregon, Florida and Texas that underwent similar redevelopment projects to learn what worked and what didn’t.


Tri-Citians were clear that they wanted to see some kind of public areas in a redeveloped Vista Field, including water features, Mehaffy said. But they need to figure out what is feasible and will last.


Officials hope to create something that adds to what the rest of the Tri-Cities has to offer.


He said the port will need to work with Kennewick Irrigation District, the city of Kennewick, Kennewick Public Facilities District, Ben Franklin Transit, and others to make the project a reality.


He suggested starting talks with private developers so their ideas and feedback can be incorporated into the planning.


Officials have said it could take years before redevelopment at Vista Field starts to bear visible fruit. It’s best to take the time to do it right, said Commissioner Skip Novakovich.


“We don’t want to be ‘Ready, fire and aim,'” Mehaffy said. “We want to be “Ready, aim, fire.'”


A task force of community leaders who will help port commissioners sift through the possibilities for Vista Field meets for the first time Monday. A series of public meetings to gather more community comments is planned for November.


Port commissioners in March hired the consulting firm for up to $383,000 to develop a master redevelopment plan for the site, including possible financing and phasing.


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.

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