Visitor bureau supports closure of Vista Field

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 28, 2013 

Redeveloping the Vista Field Airport is the best option for Tri-Cities' tourism industry, the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau told the Port of Kennewick on Wednesday.

The visitor bureau's board sent a letter to the port in support of closing and redeveloping the small general aviation airport near the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.

The visitor bureau also is asking the port to make the decision about the airport's future instead of spending more money to put it to a public vote.

Kris Watkins, the bureau's president and CEO, told the Kennewick City Council this week that the vote was unanimous for closing the airport, although elected officials on the board abstained from voting.

The visitor bureau, Kennewick Public Facilities District and West Richland City Council have all told the port that developing the 113 acres into something other than an airport is in the best interest of the community.

So far, no public agencies have told the port that it should keep the airport open and invest in improving it.

The Tri-City Development Council and the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce are expected to issue statements on the airport soon.

Port of Kennewick commissioners have asked the public for their views on Vista Field. In January, a draft study was released that explored closing the airport in favor of a mixed-use development or making Vista Field a premier airport.

The port has been struggling to find a way to revitalize the 90-acre airfield after deciding two years ago to keep it open in hopes of recruiting more businesses. A consulting firm was hired to do a $225,000 independent review after efforts to find an airport operator fell through.

The final report is expected in March.

The visitor bureau's letter said the services that Vista Field provides are available elsewhere in the community, so redevelopment would not force current users to go outside of the community.

"Due to its geographic location, there is much more potential for economic growth if Vista Field and the surrounding real estate are repurposed in a way to create increased commerce and job creation opportunities," said the letter.

The bureau's board encouraged the port to develop a detailed master plan laying out the best use of the land.

Being able to plan ahead for that area's development is exciting, Watkins told the Kennewick City Council.

"We are just running out of space and land at Vista Field," she said.

The Kennewick Public Facilities District's board also unanimously supported taking out the airport and developing it into uses that enhance the Three Rivers Campus, which includes the convention center, according to the facilities district's letter.

The visitor bureau agreed that plans to expand the convention center will create a demand in the area for more tourism-related businesses, such as restaurants, retail shops, attractions and hotels.

"Therefore redevelopment seems to be in the best interest of the community as a whole," the bureau wrote.

The West Richland City Council also unanimously agreed that redeveloping Vista Field was in the best interest of the city, which is within the Port of Kennewick's boundaries.

The Kennewick City Council has not taken a position on Vista Field's future. Kennewick Mayor Steve Young told the Herald that the council felt it would be inappropriate to take a position. Instead, the council will support the Port of Kennewick's decision on the property, which was once owned by the city.

Before the port commission voted in 2010 to keep the airport, Kennewick city officials asked the port to consider closing it so that the 90 acres near the city's key commercial and tourist district could be developed for other uses.

Young said the city at the time still had an agreement with the port about the property. Since then, the council has relinquished the agreement, at the port's request.

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