Fast Focus 'Future of Vista Field:' Consider the cost of investment and return

February 24, 2013 

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

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