Port of Kennewick hears Vista Field ideas

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldNovember 14, 2012 

Should the Vista Field Airport be greatly enhanced with more amenities, hangars and a stronger connection to nearby communities and businesses?

Or should the airfield become the new downtown for the Tri-Cities, complete with places for people to live and businesses to open and more green space such as parks and plazas.

Those were the competing visions for Vista Field presented Tuesday to Port of Kennewick commissioners. Both were developed from public comments at meetings in recent weeks and from emails.

"There are viable choices for continued operation and for closure (of Vista Field)," said Michael Mehaffy, project manager with consultant Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. "The issue in each case is there are going to be different costs and different benefits."

Commissioners took no action and Mehaffy's firm won't submit its final report to the port until early February.

But one thing was clear -- few people wanted the airfield to stay the same.

"The current 'slow death spiral' is not what anyone wants," one commenter was quoted as saying.

Commissioner Don Barnes said, "This validates the fact that we've taken this new study on."

After deciding two years ago to keep the airport open, the port has struggled to find a way to revitalize the 90-acre airfield near Kennewick's entertainment district and Columbia Center mall.

Port President Skip Novakovich said the current plan for the airport identified in the master plan adopted a few years ago isn't working because of a lack of private investment in the airfield.

"It's a beautiful plan, but it's unfunded," he said.

The consulting firm was brought in to present options for the area after commissioners decided not to have local businessman Michael Shannon become the airport's fixed-based operator. Port officials said they and Shannon were too far apart to continue negotiations.

Mehaffy said that while a series of public meetings found no broad public consensus on whether to close or redevelop the airfield, all commenters viewed the airfield as an asset that could benefit the region.

Mehaffy provided sketches and drawings of the two competing visions based on public comments.

Most port officials intentionally had stayed away from the public meetings so they wouldn't influence the comments.

"This is by far the most input that has ever filtered back to me," said Commissioner Gene Wagner.

Kennewick resident Mike White, who attended Tuesday's meeting, agreed. "I think we're going to get an excellent result out of this," he said.

Executive Director Tim Arntzen said he wants to see data on how much use the airfield actually gets and confirmation that businesses who claim to be airport-dependent are using the facility.

Novakovich said he suspects the board will put the matter before the public as an advisory vote before the port makes a decision.

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