Citizen ideas on Vista Field future sought

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldNovember 3, 2012 

KENNEWICK -- This week, residents have the opportunity to have their ideas for Kennewick's Vista Field Airport included in the study a consultant is doing for the Port of Kennewick.

Consultant Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. of Portland is holding a series of workshops starting Monday to gather feedback from citizens, stakeholders and the general community.

That feedback will become part of what the consultant will use to create the best-case scenarios for Vista Field that include keeping the airport open and improving it, as well as closing it for redevelopment.

The port has been struggling to find a way to revitalize the 90-acre airfield after deciding two years ago to keep the airport open in hopes of recruiting more businesses to the property.

Commissioners decided they needed another look at the options for the airport after rejecting a proposal in June from businessman Mike Shannon to be the airport's fixed-based operator. Port officials said they and Shannon were too far apart to continue negotiations.

The port then hired Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. for a $225,000 study to do an independent review of the small airport near the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.

Port Commissioner Don Barnes said in July that a decision needs to be made to get the property more in line with the port's objectives of driving economic development, creating jobs and enhancing the quality of life.

At this point, no one has been able to say for sure exactly how much Vista Field, home to about 20 small aircraft, is used. Flights in an out are not counted at the tower-less airport.

The Port of Kennewick has lost an average of $25,000 a year on the airport since 1995, according to port documents. The loss has been as high as almost $90,000, and is projected to be $35,000 this year.

The airport was in the black by a few thousand dollars during 2006 and 2007 -- when Tuttle Aviation was the operator -- but that did not include the cost of port staff time, depreciation and other indirect expenses, according to documents.

The airport represents a challenge because it does not receive funding from the Federal Aviation Administration, and the FAA has said it never will because of the proximity of the Pasco and Richland airports.

Pilots have argued that Vista Field is a unique opportunity and provides something to the region that the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco and the Richland Airport can't. They've said the airport should be expected to make money and it has a greater value to the community.

Others in the community have questioned that value and asked for facts of the exact benefit the airport brings to the economy. Port officials have said the study is supposed to answer some of those questions.

The Monday workshop is from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Tri-Cities Business & Visitor Center, 7130 W. Grandridge Blvd., in Kennewick.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the consultants will hold workshops from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Three Rivers Convention Center, 7016 W. Grandridge Blvd., in Kennewick. The evening meetings on those days will bring together what was discussed earlier in the day, according to port officials.

After the study is complete, the port intends to let taxpayers decide what they will support using an advisory vote next year.

Comments about the airport also can be sent to VistaField@PortOfKennewick.org.

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