Port of Kennewick officials prepare to close Vista Field

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldNovember 28, 2013 

Vista Field kennewick vista field

Vista Field Airport in Kennewick shown in this aerial photo taken in June, 2012.

TRI-CITY HERALD FILE — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Hangars at Kennewick's Vista Field Airport are emptying as the Port of Kennewick gets ready to close the airfield for redevelopment.

As port officials chip away at their closure to-do list, they are already planning the future of the 113 acres.

The study that port commissioners used to decide the fate of the airport earlier this year suggested a mix of commercial, retail, office and residential properties for the area.

In early 2014, Larry Peterson, the port's director of planning and development, said port officials plan to pick up where the Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. study left off in envisioning the development of Vista Field.

"I think we have a good start with the scenario of redevelopment," Peterson said.

Port Commission President Skip Novakovich said the port doesn't just want to hand the property off to a developer. When the commission decided to close the airport earlier this year, commissioners made a commitment to turn the area into a long-lasting town center.

The port has notified the Federal Aviation Administration and tenants of the airport's Dec. 31 closure date, Peterson said.

They've gotten the comprehensive plan designation for the airport changed from public facilities to commercial, which opens the door to redevelopment, officials said.

"We are marching toward the closure as directed by commission," Peterson said.

So far, Novakovich said the closure has gone smoothly.

Among the tasks port officials have accomplished are:

w Signing an agreement with the Washington State Department of Transportation to repay $239,000 the airfield received from grants, in four payments over two years.

w Negotiating an agreement with Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute to refund the company $78,000, which includes prepayment of its right to use Vista Field Airport and legal fees.

The port still is working on:

w Negotiating with businessman Mike Shannon to buy his hangar at the airport.

w Working with tenants to vacate the T-hangars. The airport is down to four T-hangar tenants on month-to-month leases. The airport had about 17 earlier this year.

Starting next year, the port plans to involve the community in determining what type of mixed-use, urban-feeling development would fit best at the site, Peterson said.

Architect Gary Black from the University of California, Berkeley, who has worked with the port on plans for Columbia Drive, and the DPZ team will help with the planning process, Peterson said. The port has budgeted $250,000 for planning efforts next year.

Among the ideas the port is exploring is "new urbanism," Peterson said, which involves creating pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, developing a mixed-use area with housing, businesses and public spaces in close proximity.

Port officials see it as a chance to bring a unique development to the Tri-Cities, rather than compete with existing developments.

It's critical to figure out how to create a self-sufficient area, Peterson said.

"It isn't something that's going to happen over night because we don't build something that is just built to last for a few years or a few trends," Novakovich said. "It needs to be a very long-lasting community center for generations to come."

Next year, the fueling facility at the airport may be removed, along with demolishing the T-hangars, Peterson said.

The port is looking at salvaging some of the materials to be used in redevelopment, such as large wood beams from one of the T-hangars and the metal planks that form a simulated carrier deck used for landing practice during World War II.

But it may be 2015 before the first visible public infrastructure goes in at Vista Field, Peterson said.

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