Fast Focus 'Future of Vista Field:' There is a better use of the land

February 24, 2013 

An analysis shows it would cost $40 million of Port of Kennewick taxpayers' money to enlarge Vista Field to make it the Tri-Cities' third-largest airport. All for a very small niche market segment.

The Columbia Center area will continue to be a "hot" market, from the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center on the north, past the developments at Tapteal in Richland and south to 10th Avenue in Kennewick. With additional linkages of Steptoe and Center Parkway and expansion of the Convention Center, this area becomes even more valuable. For this reason, Vista redevelopment makes good economic and good common sense.

I fly out of Tri-Cities Airport-- because I'm a passenger, as are the 99 percent of the people who use airports and pay taxes to the Port of Kennewick. To help aviation to thrive and regional economic activity to develop as a result of it, my money would be on making the Tri-Cities Airport continue to succeed and not go the way of Walla Walla or Yakima airports with too few choices of airlines and connections.

Vista Field, with improved linkages to the convention center and retail districts, should be redeveloped to provide enhanced regional economic and community development. Let's make it happen!

-- THOMAS MOAK, Kennewick

Vista Airport must close

I agree with Kirk Williamson's letter, (Jan. 29), that the Vista airport must close. Its short runway only allows small aircraft to use it, thus classifying it as a "non-real" airport by the Federal Aviation Administration. The airport, therefore, never receives federal grant money, unlike the millions received by the FAA-approved Pasco and Richland airports. A previous consultant's study of Vista Field concluded that the other two airports can meet the demands for air transportation as this region grows. Vista Field will attract mostly recreational aircraft, and without grant money, it can only increase the financial burden on local taxpayers. However, closing the airport and developing Vista Field with new hotels, business offices, shops, and improved event facilities will result in millions from tax revenues and from out-of-town visitors attending trade shows and conventions.

With the current consultant's study results, there is no comparison in financial benefits between keeping the non-real airport open versus closing it. Unless people learn the truth and support closing this money pit, our taxes will increase, and Kennewick will miss out on an improved quality of life from millions that would come from the development of Vista Field.

-- BOB OGATA, Kennewick

Study is flawed

I took part in the charrette and had fun! It was like "imagineering" at the Disney studio. It wasn't until after the public comment session when the plan was presented to the port commissioners and the public that I realized that I had been duped. By going along with extravagances with no pragmatic examination of costs, the commissioners were presented with a plan for the airport which was doomed to fail.

DPZ presented three options. One is an enhanced airport; two is redevelopment of then land and third is continuation of the current situation. It was immediately assumed that the third option was out of the picture. The third option was never explained. Was it the 2010 Master Plan for the airport? Or was it the negligence of airport upkeep for decades?

DPZ admits that participation in the charrette was smaller than usual. There was not a cross section of the Port of Kennewick community. Those who attended were caught up in the freedom to dream without the constraints of reality. The results are two flawed plans (grandiose ideas without any logical funding) and one not considered. I consider the $225,000 spent on the study wasted. The result is flawed and does not show a way forward.

-- KATHY WHITE, Kennewick

Once lost, always gone

March 31, 2013, is the tenth anniversary of the destruction of Meigs Field in Chicago, a highly utilized commercial and general aviation airport on the shores of Lake Michigan. True to form as befits his ancestry, Mayor Richard M. Daley ordered the busy and important Illinois transportation asset bulldozed into oblivion, in the deep, dark blackness of night demonstrating once again the authoritarian style of the Chicago "political machine" and forever impeding progress in the Windy City. Let's not see that happen in Kennewick.

Despite the Port of Kennewick's previous and publicized decisions to keep Vista Field open, they have this valuable Tri-Cities asset squarely in their crosshairs. For whatever reason, the port has targeted the airport and continues to show relentless determination to spend as much money as they can to validate some mysterious objective and deprive us all of a 60-year-old landmark of historical importance not to mention the possibilities for the continued development of existing and future economic growth potential.

Vista Field should be preserved, upgraded and utilized before unwary Kennewick taxpayers, pilots and non-pilots alike, find themselves paying a hefty price for losing a facility that deserves its place in history and provides a valuable transportation asset for the future.

-- MIKE and JANE TALBOT, Kennewick

Of investment and return

In support of keeping and promoting Vista Field as an airport I would like to express three salient points:

1. Vista Field, as an airport, is unique because of its location in the heart of Kennewick's commercial/entertainment district. No other airport in the Tri-Cities, or the Northwest for that matter, can claim the kind of instant access that Vista provides. It is a major transportation asset that has been mismanaged by the Port of Kennewick and ignored by the surrounding community. Redeveloping Vista into commercial property is not economically necessary for the area. The property is not unique in that regard. There is plenty of land available in Kennewick and the surrounding area for economic expansion. It's not an either/or situation.

2. The claim that the airport only exists so a few people can park their airplanes there is a specious argument. The Port of Kennewick's staff has done a very good job of allowing that perception to exist. However, airports are an economic multiplier. UPS only has a couple of flights a day into Vista, but the economic impact of their cargo is huge. PCLI's twice-daily flights generate thousands of dollars of economic activity every business day. And that is only two operators using the field. There are more. And there can be a lot more, if only the POK would act like it wanted the airport to serve the community. And as an, 'oh by the way,' what is the economic multiplier potential (in cargo, etc.) of the marina at Clover Island, an area where a few people park their boats, and the port supports?

3. The argument that the port needs to get the best return on investment (ROI) for the airport property is fallacious. Economic activity is enhanced by the availability of a transportation infrastructure. That's why we have (and pay for) roads, harbors and piers ... and airports. The better the infrastructure, the better the ability of the community to grow. The ROI on a road is $0.00 in direct return (except for the coins that the street sweepers suck up), but the economic benefits are obvious. Airports produce economic benefits as well. However, unlike roads and bridges, they can and should generate a substantial direct return. They can even pay for themselves, and possibly generate a profit for the operating authority with the right kind of investment and management. But the airports property per se will generally not obtain the maximum ROI feasible. They are an economic multiplier, not a stand-alone economic entity. Anyone using 'maximum ROI' as an excuse to close an airport has an easy, but fallacious argument. The airport just needs to be managed effectively to get a positive ROI. Another, 'oh by the way' point, Vista was operating in the black until the port ran off the flight/maintenance operation and discouraged aviation activity there.

The main point is this, closing Vista Field and redeveloping it would be an uncorrectable mistake. If it goes, it's gone forever, and for no other reason than to commercially develop that specific piece of property at the cost of destroying an invaluable piece of transportation infrastructure.

-- ROBERT (RJ) BLAHUT, Prosser

Misleading numbers

Can anyone make a decision on bad data?

After thoroughly analyzing the financial data presented in the DPZ report on Vista Field, the conclusion is that the financial reporting is seriously flawed, whether intentional or not, and misleads the commissioners and the public in the decision process.

Let's assume private parties will build hangars, one part-time port staff is required to oversee Vista and the same evaluation criteria is used to expand Vista and the redevelopment of Vista, then what do the financial numbers look like?

When using this criteria, the conclusions drawn below are radically different than presented in the draft EIS.

The cost of expanding Vista Field should be approximately $5.9 million and not $43 million, and the operational loss today is $63,281 and not a loss of $360,281 as in the study.

Applying the same criteria to remove the airport and redevelop it hoping private investors will fill it with home, offices and retail shows, the cost to the port is $23,897,000, not $11,897,893 as in the study. So the net to the port after all the land has been sold over 20 years is not a net gain of $3.7 million but a loss of $8.3 million.

What is the difference?

The report claims there has been $4,550,961 in buildings at Vista Field by the port, representing $152,702 depreciation expense per year for 30 years. Anyone involved with Vista Field will know that the port has not invested $4.5 million. Maybe $1.2 million buying out hangar owners.

The claim is that it currently takes $187,000 a year for the last seven years in direct salaries and benefits to manage the airport. Seriously, for no operator and 20 planes! One person part time is more than enough.

If the airport were redeveloped, there are no costs for staff time spent over the next 20 years and no overhead of the port. If these are added, then the redevelopment of the airport loses money: $8.3 million over 20 years.

Real data says that airport can stay open for $0.11 per year for a $100,000 home -- a no tax increase.

-- CARL CADWELL, Richland

Vista is mismanaged

I urge everyone to review page 2 of the Washington Pilots Association "WINGS" newsletter. This article deals with the City of Auburn and the Auburn Airport. This is a similar situation to Vista Field in that the airport lies in the center of the city. But what a huge management difference! The city of Auburn recognizes the opportunity of a close-in airport and is reaping the economic rewards. The Port of Kennewick is horribly mis-managing Vista Field.

All a reasonable person has to do is look at the great job Scott Keller is doing over at the Richland and Prosser airports operated by the Port of Benton. The people of Kennewick need to get new management for the Port of Kennewick that will operate in the best interest of the taxpaying public.

-- DAVE LUCKE, Washington Pilots Association

Improve Vista,

My wife and I enjoyed flying to Vista Field, due to the proximity to Columbia Center. We would usually shop and get something to eat during our day out. It is a short flight from almost anywhere in the state, because of the central location. It only takes an hour to fly down from Spokane where we live.

As time has gone on, the ease of getting to and from Vista Field to the mall area has gotten increasing harder. My wife and I hope Vista Field will receive the consideration it deserves to help promote the local mall and the businesses it serves. Thank you for your consideration.

-- TOM MORRIS, Spokane Valley

Airport benefits all

As a supporter of Vista Field, I believe that I am not only supporting the preservation of aviation in the Tri-City area, but supporting the preservation of Kennewick itself. Aviation is commonly misunderstood in what it brings to a community. Not only does it enrich the diversity of an area, but it aids in commerce that many people do not realize. Aviation is not only a hobby and passion for thousands of pilots, it is also a thriving and incredible industry. And closing doors to an industry is what happens when airports like Vista Field are closed.

Being a pilot myself, I base the prosperity of a community on how it accommodates to aviation. I believe that a community that supports the aviation industry, both general and commercial, is a thriving one. As someone from outside the Tri-City area, I have been delighted to see aviation thrive in the heart of the Columbia Basin.

The discussion of closing Vista Field is one that concerns me and the future of aviation in the Tri-City area. Having Vista Field, Kennewick has a huge advantage in the field of aviation. Airports are delicate resources that communities should not take lightly. When they are gone, they are gone for good. So, before a community that I see as a one seeking success makes a decision such as the one at hand with Vista Field, I hope that a certain sense of ignorance is avoided and people open their eyes to see what kind of awesome thing they have right under their noses.

-- CORBIN HARDER, Hooper

Port should stick to plan

I currently fly my aircraft from Basin City to Vista Field to purchase my fuel to help support the airport, to the amount of more than $3,000 per year. I thought that the 2011 airport plan by the port was to open the surrounding land to private investment and sale, which would have encouraged business. Instead, I read that the port has refused to allow such developments to occur.

More than a million taxpayer dollars have been wasted by different public officials over the past several years trying to close the airport. Now two companies have spent $6.5 million in new construction based on the port's 2011 study to keep the airport open. What happens to them?

Attending the meetings, I constantly heard anti-airport folks talk about increasing the tax base through minimum-wage jobs. Pro-airport folks spoke about middle-class jobs that are a result of an airport's influence on the surrounding community, who will pay more taxes because they can afford them.

Look at all of the other local port districts that support their airports: new developments at Prosser, Othello, Colfax, Pasco and Richland. That's private investment and that should be allowed at Vista Field. Don't waste the money on a new terminal. Just sell the surrounding land and keep the airport open!

-- RICHARD DORMAN, Mesa

Stable future

I have been dismayed at the multi-year fight attempting to close Vista Field. Closing the FBO reduced services for no good apparent cause. I understand there is an offer in process to open an FBO again, which would be of great benefit to the flying public as well as many businesses.

Personally, I own a business in Kennewick, and am interested in building a hanger to house my aircraft. The uncertainty of the future of Vista Field has made me hesitate to commit to such an expensive undertaking. Businesses need stability, so the city of Kennewick is losing out on at least any revenue I might generate.

Keep Vista Field open. Further, invest in its facilities like the Port of Benton is doing at Richland Airport.

-- JAMES R. KEENE, Kennewick

Convenient to mall

I am a pilot who has found Vista Field the easiest way to get to the mall next to Vista Field. I have bought household fixtures there, gone there for meals on occasion and just gone there to take someone to the mall for ladies' shopping. I will probably be there in the next two weeks again.

-- LYNN BUCHANAN, Yakima

Already settled

If the port had gone forward with the Vista Field Master Plan which was adopted February 2011, we would not be having this discussion. The private sector took the port at its word and proceeded forward, spending millions of dollars based on the unanimous decision the commissioners made in March of 2010 -- which I was a part of -- to keep Vista Field open. Then they adopted the Master Plan in 2011 and instructed Tim Arntzen, executive director, to take all steps needed to carry out the master plan. I personally talked with the port about building hangers in March, 2012 with private funds and was told that the port would be going out for a Request for Proposals in May 2012.

If the port had tried to market Vista Field and had shown the public that they had intentions of making it a viable airport, then people would have come forward to build at Vista Field. I am aware of others who expressed interest in building at the airport but questioned whether the port really intended on keeping the airport open and if the port would be someone they wanted to do business with.

The port needs to stand by its commitments and proceed with the Vista Field Master Plan.

-- DAVID HANSON Kennewick

See the future

Unlike many of the most vocal supporters of keeping the airfield open, I live and pay taxes in the Port of Kennewick District. I have two questions:

First: Does your vision of this area 10, 15 or 20 years from now include an airfield in that location? Mine does not.

Second: Is the land occupied by the airfield at Vista Field more valuable developed for the region's retail, professional and entertainment center or as a place to land a few airplanes?

Please, let's get on with closing the airfield and making the land available for development.

-- KIRK WILLIAMSON, Kennewick

Enjoyable stop

I fly to Vista Field several times a year. My friends and I were there last Saturday. We walked to the Texas restaurant and ate lunch. We enjoy aviation, and Vista Field is an enjoyable stop. It offers restaurants, the mall, the Toyota Center and many other places all within walking distance. Pasco and Richland do not offer those. You will need a car to travel in those cities, where you can walk to everything in Kennewick.

We would like to see Vista remain a viable airport with continued development. Aviation is just as important to quality of life in a community as pools, golf course, parks, houses, hospitals, businesses, malls, and walking trails. Remember, once an airport is closed, it is forever gone.

-- MIKE BULL, Yakima

Endangered species

I operate an aviation company with locations in Seattle and Las Vegas. We work with several clients providing aviation services in and out of Vista Field. This access allows our clients to operate more efficiently and have direct access to and from Kennewick. Many of our clients live and locate their businesses in Kennewick because of the access to Vista Field. We have seen an increase in our flights into and out of Vista Field each of the past four years.

Airports are a finite resource and they are an endangered species. When an airport closes, it is lost forever and with it the economic benefits that it provides now -- or ever would have provided in the future.

I strongly encourage you to keep Vista Field open now and for the future.

-- LUKE LYSEN, The Flight Academy

Port's obligation

Through resolution, the Port of Kennewick adopted the 2011 Master Plan for Vista Field. So the port has a duty and an obligation to develop the airport. The port, however, did not accomplish any of the plan's milestones. It appears now to use this new study to hide mismanagement or to conceal conspiracy.

Relying upon the port's resolution, private businesses have invested millions of dollars in business infrastructure attached to the airport, because of the airport.

At the Draft EIS meeting, the last presenter was the manager of Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute (PCLI). He talked about the importance of an airport to the community and the importance of the airport to his regional business model. PCLI's beautiful new location is attached to Vista Field because of the airport. PCLI's other regional locations are located at airports because of direct access. Again, airports are key to PCLI's successful business model.

Cadwell Labs, the 100+ manufacturing jobs and the recent expansion project should be celebrated, not lambasted. Carl Cadwell spoke about the many reasons why an airport location is important to the success of Cadwell Labs.

High-paying jobs are located in Kennewick because of Vista Field airport. Don't send them packing.

-- CARL HOLDER, Richland

Valuable to community

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is a not-for-profit membership association of almost 400,000 pilots and aircraft owners nationwide including more than 11,500 members in the state of Washington. On behalf of our members, AOPA is committed to ensuring the future viability and economic development of general aviation airports.

Vista Field is one of those general aviation airports for which AOPA fights. The state of Washington believes it to be important enough to be included in the State Aviation System Plan as a Community Service airport. It is only due to being close to two other airports within the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) that it is excluded from recognition by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as being a critical part of the national air transportation system.

The airport provides an important benefit to the entire community, not just the pilots and aircraft owners on the field. And it is important to note that those airport users pay their way through leases and taxes on the aircraft and fuel, which support operations at the airport. Unfortunately, the taxes paid to the state are not 100 percent dedicated to aviation use. Non-aviation uses take 90 percent of the taxes paid, leaving very little to spend on local airports like Vista Field.

Vista Field is an important piece of a statewide transportation infrastructure that currently contributes to the economic benefit of the community and has the potential to contribute even more. The port should continue to exert all efforts to move forward with the 2011 Airport Master Plan and not be so quick to throw in the towel.

-- JOHN L. COLLINS, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

Unique location

Vista Field is in a location which provides easy access to the Tri-City commercial hub for general aviation. Few cities ever have the chance or opportunity to be able to give itself an airport in a downtown location.

While the airport is close to the business district along Columbia Center Blvd. and Canal Drive, it is not part of those retail enterprises that shoppers frequent. None of the extensive vacant land around the airport contains any retail enterprises that sell normal or common retail items. If one were to contemplate building a business for the shopping public, would not the developing Southridge area be more positive because of the land availability, new hospital and the growing housing that is occurring at this time.

If one is to make an estimate of the kind of businesses that would populate this former airport area, look at the businesses that are between the runway and the railroad tracks. This is not the concept featured in the DPZ Vista Field Planning, Environment and Economic analysis, but it is a fourth possible alternative.

Again, having an airport in a downtown location is a rarity that few cities can realize.

-- EDWARD, KEENAN, Kennewick

Who benefits?

Whether Vista Field stays open or closes has no direct impact on me, which offers me the opportunity for an objective view of the situation. To me, it appears that for the past several years, the Port pf Kennewick has been planning for a closure while it "shopped" for study results that would justify the planned closure. Claims by the port that costs to improve the field are too high seem weak when, in truth, the costs of the multiple studies would have offset those capital improvement costs. When Dr. Shannon submitted an operational proposal to the port, his figures were misrepresented by port officials. So when trying to decide what the truth is, I am left with the old adage, "who benefits?"

Who does benefit from the closing? Clearly the port benefits by closing what they see as a "white elephant" operation and gains an enormous cash influx from the sale of property. The city of Kennewick benefits from expected increases in sales tax. Benton County benefits by increased property taxes. KID benefits, as they own adjoining property which will increase in value, although I suspect none of this additional income will benefit ratepayers. Developers will benefit, as they always do, by the sale of property developed at the expense of the port, ostensibly from the proceeds from prospective property sale. Builders will benefit from profits gained from contracts secured. The Tri-City Herald will benefit from increased business ads and residential subscriptions. Makes me wonder how objective these parties can be.

Who does not profit? Well, there will certainly be an increased traffic flow around the area. Columbia Center Blvd., Clearwater, Deschutes Ave. and Grandridge Blvd. will most certainly become harder to navigate. And the proposed development includes multiple residential units, which means another request from the Kennewick School District for another bond measure to increase classrooms due to additional students. Additionally, what of the unfunded improvement costs related to closing and development costs incurred by the port and city?

Promises by politicians and bureaucrats seem to have little merit once the deed has been done. So I, am highly skeptical, maybe even cynical about the "why and how" of closing Vista Field.

- JOHN PARKER, Kennewick

Fact or fiction

Why did the consultants not include the years between 1980 and 2004? Did someone conveniently not give this information to them? Vista Airport provided a gateway to this community during these years and was not a drain on the community as the Port of Kennewick suggests.

Kennewick Aircraft operated off of Vista Field in late 1979 in a shack across from where the new building would be built in 1981, Gil Mayfield had a 99-year lease on the airport and with investors built the FBO building. Kennewick Aircraft then moved into the new building and offered all the services that is expected of an FBO.

Before too long, pilots were flying in from all over Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon to go shopping and do business. Vista was now a destination.

The city owned the airport from the mid 70s to 1991, when it was purchased by the Port of Kennewick. Since then the port has done everything in its power to make sure Vista fails, and they have done it in a slow methodical, and some would say, "devious" way.

They first put Kennewick Aircraft out for Request for Proposal (RFP) which they had never done before, (our lease had lapsed while we, in good faith, were negotiating a new lease.) We wrote a proposal, and, although we had all the equipment in place and were already providing a full service FBO and were the high bid, the port still awarded the bid to Ben Tuttle, whose only experience was having a mechanic's license.

Within about a year or so the port rewrote Tuttle's lease (I read it) and included a clause that if there is any negative news about the future of the airport, the port would buy out Mr. Tuttle in the amount of $75,000. The clause also stated that Tuttle would not publicly voice any comments on Vista's closure then or in the future. Similarly, Mr. Musser and Gaunt were offered a large amount of money for their hangars, with the same stipulation as Tuttle.

Needless to say everyone took their money and left.

Now, except for Cadwell Labs, they have removed all of the big players, and makes it almost impossible for anyone, except for maybe Mr. Bill Gates to improve and operate the airport as the port stipulated in their lease. Well done, Port of Kennewick, mission accomplished!

I would like to thank the Port of Kennewick for its actions, as we, Kennewick Aircraft (DBA Sundance Aviation) are now at the Richland Airport where the Port of Benton realizes how important an airport is to the community. The Port of Benton has been so supportive to us. To quote Sally Field, "They love us. They really really love us."

-- SUZIE KELLY-DYER, Richland

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