In Focus: Vista Field: What’s in it for everyone

January 24, 2014 

With the Port of Kennewick’s 112-acre Vista Field airport now closed, Port Commissioner Skip Novakovich asked our consultancy, Duany Plater-Zyberk and Co., to give a brief report on the redevelopment vision. We’re pleased to do that and to highlight the historic opportunity this project represents. Our firm works around the world on similar projects — but in one important sense, Vista Field is unique. In our experience, it’s exceedingly rare to be able to create such a transformative redevelopment in a prime location at the center of its region. This opportunity must not be squandered, surely. To sum it up, this is what our team’s research shows is at stake: Up to 3,380 jobs, $460 million in private sector investment, $51 million in new infrastructure and $408 million in new (taxable) buildings, bringing new revenues for police, fire, hospital, libraries, parks and other services. These numbers are economic projections from members of our team, including ECONorthwest, one of the region’s most respected economics consulting firms. They assume the transformation of Vista Field into a destination “town center” that will create a landmark regional asset for current and future generations — if done right. That’s the challenge ahead. The port decided to close and redevelop Vista Field following the consultant team’s detailed analysis of alternatives. It was clear that redevelopment was the only alternative that wouldn’t require an increase in property taxes: It eliminates taxpayer-funded operating subsidies, and in the long run, it will benefit the entire community rather than limited users. As part of that analysis, DPZ led a series of community workshops, bringing regional stakeholders together with international experts in urban design, development, aviation and economics. The concepts that emerged featured walkable mixed-use districts with beautiful amenities and top-quality development. The community embraced a shared vision for converting the land into a connected series of pedestrian-friendly streets, parks and plazas, shopping, dining, entertainment and civic activities. The kind of development it represents, emphasizing walkable, people-friendly places, is a proven model for revitalizing cities, towns and suburbs around the country, and generating popular amenities as well as economic “multiplier” effects. While redevelopment offers a historic opportunity for the entire Tri-City region, the process is never easy, and many things can go wrong. Success will require a tenacious commitment to quality and years of hard work. Especially important, it will require a partnership approach between the port and other stakeholders, including city of Kennewick, Kennewick General Hospital, irrigation and school districts, Ben Franklin Transit, Tri-City Development Council and many others. The potential benefits are enormous: increased business activity and an expanded tax base; easier recruitment of top-notch talent with high-quality civic amenities and a regional destination town center that residents can enjoy for many years to come. Nearby commercial businesses also stand to gain from the synergy of locations. Clustering will actually “grow the pie” and draw more shoppers — not just from the Tri-Cities, but from the wider Columbia Basin and beyond. New businesses around wine, microbreweries, sports and emerging regional attractions can stabilize and diversify the economy and provide future competitive advantages as federal spending winds down. Frankly, we think the region also has a strong asset in the owner of the property. Though the Port of Kennewick is our client — full disclosure — we can honestly attest to the remarkable vision and entrepreneurial energy we have seen, and the port’s proven ability to tackle ambitious projects and make them a success. While it’s natural to feel uneasy about potential competition among jurisdictions, we are convinced there is vastly more to gain with a regional team united behind the port as leader of the development partnership. While DPZ would be honored to remain involved with this significant project, it is the people and organizations of the Tri-Cities — working in partnership with the port — that will have to do the most “heavy lifting” to ensure that Vista Field contributes successfully to a stronger regional economy and enhanced quality of life. We trust all stakeholders will hold one another accountable for achieving the full potential of this remarkable once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Andres Duany is co-founder and principal of Duany Plater-Zyberk and Co., with a distinguished record of more than 300 successful plans for popular walkable communities during 30 years. Michael Mehaffy is DPZ’s project manager for the Vista Field Alternatives Study.

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