Vista Field development plans run into roadblock with Three Rivers campus

By Kristi Pihl, December 22, 2014, Tri-City Herald

The community’s vision for a town center at Kennewick’s Vista Field may have run up against its first roadblock.


Extending roads to connect the former airport to the Three Rivers Entertainment District and improve travel between both and the rest of Kennewick has been identified as essential to the success of redevelopment efforts.


But where a conceptual drawing from a recent series of Vista Field interactive community workshops shows a road, Kennewick Public Facilities District draft plans show a building.


Port of Kennewick officials and consultants from Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. expressed concern about the disconnect between the two visions at a recent port meeting.


The public facilities district has been re-evaluating how to expand the Three Rivers Campus after voters declined a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase to build a $20 million expansion of the convention center more than a year ago. Its draft plan would physically connect the existing convention center to the Toyota Center by adding an exhibit hall with a stage and a food court.


The Vista Field vision recently was developed with input from more than 180 community members. That plan includes an entertainment district centered around a performing arts center and near the convention center that would include restaurants, cafes and nightlife.


In that plan, a road goes through the existing parking lot and between the convention center and the Toyota Center to connect Okanogan Place and Grandridge Boulevard.


Port Executive Director Tim Arntzen told port commissioners he is concerned that a key portion of connectivity between the convention center and the Toyota Center is at risk.


From discussions with public facilities district officials, it did not appear that alleyway was something they were willing to allow, he said. Without that, Vista Field and the Three Rivers Campus would remain two different centers and there would be a wall of buildings separating the areas.


When those buildings are locked, people would no longer be able to move through that area, said Laurence Qamar, project planner for Duany Plater-Zyberk. It would limit activity and use.


The area needs smaller roads accessible to vehicles but easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to use, Qamar said. Currently, there are only major roads where vehicles dominate.


Barbara Johnson, president of the public facilities district board, said the district is trying to figure out how the Vista Field vision will fit with its plans for the Three Rivers Campus.


That means working together to find the most efficient way to connect the campus with Vista Field, she said.


The public facilities district will not do anything to negatively affect connectivity to Vista Field, said Corey Pearson, executive director of the Three Rivers Campus.


“We absolutely want to be a part of what is happening at the Vista Field,” he said.


Kennewick Mayor Steve Young said public facilities district plans need city council approval before any action can be taken. And city officials are committed to working with the port to ensure the joint success of Vista Field and the Three Rivers Entertainment District.


It’s clear road connectivity is going to be a critical part of that, he said.


Master plans are flexible, and the Three Rivers Campus plan can be changed, Young said. Planning efforts began before the recent Vista Field planning efforts.


“We are just not going to let some previous conceptual design get in the way of the success of that,” he said.


Expanding the campus


The public facilities district is working on a conceptual plan of an expansion of the Three Rivers Campus to try to meet current needs of different users, Pearson said.


Public facilities district officials hope to buy more time for the aging Toyota Center by addressing the lack of concession space, Pearson said. That also would bring in more revenue and improve the future viability of the campus.


It’s possible that a performing arts space could be incorporated as part of the expansion, Pearson said. He gets asked regularly why a theater is needed since the Toyota Center has the Windermere Theatre.


“We made the best of what we have but it is by no means a theater,” he said.


It’s difficult to schedule shows, especially those that run any longer than a day, between hockey and indoor football, Pearson said.


The Three Rivers Campus sees a lot of demand for general session space, and a theater would be great for conferences and conventions, Pearson said.


Ultimately, Pearson said they are supportive of getting a performing arts center in the Tri-Cities, whether it is on the Three Rivers Campus or not.


The Vista Field vision identifies a performing arts center as a key catalyst project to inspire development.


The idea of a first-phase performing arts center that came out of the Vista Field vision workshops is exciting, said Chuck Eaton, a board member of the Arts Center Task Force. That could help provide a usable venue for the performing and visual arts soon, then help the region get a stage-two performing arts center later.


“This two-stage process really seems to make sense,” he said.


So does having a performing arts center on or near Vista Field, he said.


But Eaton said it’s crucial for the port, the public facilities district and the city to sit down and work out the details to come up with a single plan everyone can support.


Hopefully, the port and public facilities district would be able to partner on a first phase performing arts center, said Michael Mehaffy, a project manager with Duany Plater-Zyberk.


Something spectacular


Vista Field as an airport was the Great Wall of China, Qamar said. Now, as the former airport is redeveloped into a town center, it needs to become part of a web and the paradigm needs to change.


Connecting the Three Rivers Campus to Vista Field will be a competitive advantage for the region, Mehaffy said. Vista Field can offer the dining and entertainment options the area currently lacks.


That will help make both more attractive to tourists and convention-goers.


The Tri-Cities needs to offer convention-goers a positive experience that will stand out to them, Mehaffy said.


What is done at Vista Field should help the Three Rivers Campus and the existing shopping, said Port Commissioner Tom Moak.


“I think what we can do is totally elevate the region,” Moak said.


The public facilities district wants to make the area a showcase for the community and something that will also serve visitors and patrons already coming to the Three Rivers Campus, Johnson said. It’s in everyone’s best interests to make the Three Rivers Campus and Vista Field something spectacular.


The port needs to be flexible, but it also needs to find a way to make the community vision happen, said Port Commissioner Skip Novakovich.


“We are stewards of this asset, and we need to take it forward as the community has planned,” he said.

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