Our Voice: Painful decision for Vista Field opens door

April 29, 2013 

Port of Kennewick commissioners have shown true leadership by finally making a decision with some permanence about the Vista Field Airport.

We know closing the controversial facility was not an easy decision. The airport’s usefulness to the community at large has been the topic of debate for years. And its passionate, though small, band of proponents have been vocal and organized.

But a 2010 decision to keep the facility open only saw revitalization efforts stall. Without an operator or private investments to make a go of it, the port hired a consulting firm to do an independent study of the airport.

What the group found was that more than $42 million would need to be invested to make the airport viable. With two other airports in our community, that hardly seemed like a wise investment.

Community organizations stepped forward to support the idea of redevelopment of the airport as a retail and tourism destination. Vista Field is near the convention center, Toyota Center and in the heart of retail shopping and dining in Kennewick.

The airport’s closure opens up 75 acres for potential construction of more than 1 million square feet of shops, office, commercial and industrial space. The choice became obvious as to the best interest of the community and economic development — which is the port’s mission.

And while it took years of agonizing to get to this point, commissioners have set their sights on redevelopment and are wasting no time moving ahead.

They have directed port staff to prepare the land for sale to private developers and asked the city of Kennewick for an amendment to the comprehensive plan needed for redevelopment within a week of the unanimous vote to close the airport.

We realize it will take years, if not decades, to see the kind of town center development envisioned for the former Vista Field site.

We like what we see so far in the port’s commitment to move forward.

If they hadn’t asked for the amendment from the city now, they would have had to wait an entire year to request it. The deadline for such requests is May 1.

Tenants will have to be given notice, and the port will have a lot of work to do to prepare the land for sale. The port expects to spend almost $12 million to get the site ready for development. Even after that expense, it expects to earn about $3.7 million from the sale.

And it will rid itself the headache of the costs of operating the aging airport and the small and divisive group of users who felt entitled to use Vista Field for eternity.

Someday we’ll see a variety of businesses at the former airport, a park and as many as 1,400 condos or apartments. Commissioners are moving quickly to line up redevelopment efforts, but they also know they need community input before big decisions are made. And that will take some time.

A citizen advisory committee and public meetings are expected down the road to help craft a final vision for the development.

If done properly, the reinvention of the Vista Field site could be just the kind of place many have said our community has lacked for years.

It could be a center where locals and visitors alike could walk from entertainment to dining to lodging to shopping destinations in one location.

It could have plazas without outdoor gathering places for sunny days, and housing for those wanting to live in the revitalized center of town.

The Port of Kennewick has shown us what it can do with the development of Clover Island and its ongoing work to redevelop the nearby waterfront.

The opportunities for the Vista Field area are vast, and based on the port’s track record, we’ll continue to put our trust in the leadership there to make it an asset for the community.

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