Tri-City Raceway plan on track for success

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMay 19, 2013 

West Richland and Port of Kennewick officials hope to make the former Tri-City Raceway into one of the region's next economic development success stories.

The dream of transforming the 93 acres into a wine-inspired development faces a couple of major hurdles, however.

The first is West Richland's urban growth boundaries, which prohibit the port from connecting to the city's water and sewer lines on the corner of the raceway property.

The second is the proposed Red Mountain interchange on Interstate 82, a mile and a half away. Much of the raceway project's potential is dependent on the interchange actually being built, said Port of Kennewick Commission President Skip Novakovich.

The port bought the former Tri-City Raceway property in 2008 for $1.8 million, about four years after the last cars raced around the track. It's a strategic location, close to the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area and the interchange.

The port wanted to do an economic development project in West Richland and saw the raceway property as an opportunity, Novakovich said. West Richland is among the cities in the Port of Kennewick's boundaries.

And West Richland hopes development on the raceway property could help expand the bedroom community's tax base.

The lack of direct access to the interstate from West Richland makes it difficult to draw economic development, said West Richland Councilman Brent Gerry. Right now, driving to the city means going through the back door of neighboring communities.

"This can be the new front door to our city," Gerry said.

The deadline for the city to apply for the urban growth area expansion is Dec. 1, said Ruth Swain, West Richland's economic development director. West Richland wants to expand the boundary to include the port's raceway property and up to the proposed Red Mountain interchange.

West Richland applied in 2007 to expand its urban growth area but was denied, in part because the city has a large amount of active farmland in its urban growth area, Swain said.

The Lewis & Clark Ranch, which comprises 8,000 acres of the city's urban growth area, at one time was going to become a master-planned development, Gerry said. But the ranch changed hands and the current owners plan to continue to farm the land indefinitely.

Meanwhile, buildable land in West Richland is dwindling, Gerry said. That's why the city is willing to pursue taking farmland out of its urban growth area in exchange for including land in that can actually be developed.

"We are running out of room," he said.

Cities can only apply once every five years to change urban growth boundaries, and if West Richland's change is approved it would not be finalized until 2014, Swain said.

However, a request for an urban growth area change specifically for industrial development can occur on an annual basis because of a state law change requested by the city of Kennewick, she said.

The raceway property can't reach its highest potential value for economic development unless it is in the city's urban growth area, officials said. The port has committed to providing $50,000 to help pay for the cost of the urban growth area change.

There is the potential for about $77 million in investment and 1,031 jobs if the 93 acres are included in the city's urban growth boundary, according to a 2012 report by Ferdouse Oneza of Oneza & Associates of Seattle.

The opportunities include wine-related production, barrel storage and the industrial side of the wine business at the raceway property, said Larry Peterson, the port's director of planning and development.

And bringing the wine industry creates a draw for other types of economic development, including hotels and motels, recreation and retail, Gerry said.

While development could occur now, the density would have to be much less, and some competitive advantage would be lost because businesses would have to install septic systems, Peterson said.

The port has a substantial water right for the raceway property that could be transferred to the city in exchange for utility extension, Peterson said. The port may also build internal roads, as shovel-ready property is of higher value and more attractive to developers.

Building West Richland's proposed winery effluent treatment plant at the raceway property will also add to its appeal, Peterson said.

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