Kennewick, Wash. — The Port of Kennewick is taking the first steps to transform Vista Field Airport into a town center for the Tri-Cities.
Port commissioners unanimously approved Tuesday asking the city of Kennewick for a comprehensive plan amendment needed to redevelop the airport to allow for new businesses and housing.
The request is part of implementing the decision port commissioners made last week to redevelop the small general aviation airport near the Three Rivers Convention Center.
Port Commission President Skip Novakovich said submitting the application confirms the action the port commission took about the airport's future.
But changes to the airport will not happen overnight. Novakovich said port officials will make sure current tenants have plenty of time to transition to another airport.
"We haven't even picked a closure date yet," he said.
Planning for the redeveloped airport might take years. Novakovich said the port likely will form a citizen advisory committee to help form a master plan for the property.
It's important to make sure there are plenty of options for community input and that the end result is an asset for the Tri-Cities, Novakovich said. That means creating an economically viable development that is family-friendly.
The port must submit an application for the comprehensive plan amendment to the city by May 1 to have it considered during the city's 2013 revisions, said Tim Arntzen, the port's executive director. Otherwise, the port would have to wait a full year before applying.
Larry Peterson, the port's director of planning and development, said the port will ask for a commercial designation. It currently is designated as a public facility. Changing it to commercial will allow for the uses identified in a recent port study.
Closing the airport would open up about 75 acres of the 113 acres at Vista Field for more than 1 million square feet of commercial, office, retail and industrial buildings, according to the study.
There also could be 1,400 condos or apartments on the top stories of mixed-use buildings, according to the study. A park also is planned.
Redevelopment could result in a gain of $3.7 million, after airport closure costs and preparing the land for development.
The comprehensive plan change request most likely would go to the city planning commission for a public hearing in August and to the Kennewick City Council for consideration in September, Peterson said.
Port Commissioner Don Barnes said it is a logical next step to work with the city to amend the city comprehensive plan to be consistent with the proposed redevelopment.
Port staff are working on what it will mean to implement the port's decision to close and redevelop Vista Field, Arntzen said.
Developer Jose Chavallo of Kennewick commended port commissioners for deciding to redevelop the airport. He said he has heard good feedback in the community.
Vic Epperly, former Kennewick mayor, told port commissioners that a master plan is needed to redevelop the airport. He asked port commissioners to consider selling the land as soon as possible to the private sector for redevelopment.
Port commissioners made the decision to redevelop the airport property after an extensive public process that resulted in a consultant presenting three options to port officials.
It was a bitter battle between airport proponents who said the facility is a transportation asset to the region and those who questioned the value of a little used airport in the middle of Kennewick.
After learning airport improvements could cost $42.6 million, aviators urged port commissioners to decide on a less expensive airport option.
But Michael Mehaffy, project manager with the consulting firm, told port commissioners that the so-called no-action alternative that follows the 2011 airport master plan is something the consultants could not recommend because it doesn't solve any of the fundamental problems that have kept the airport from growing.