Bill King has been Richland’s rock.
From the time he arrived 22 years ago, the deputy city manager has helped transform its anemic retail sector and guide it’s rapidly expanding south end.
“We can only build on what he started,” said City Manager Cindy Johnson. “It’s a great foundation.”
King, 66, who is retiring May 20, is credited with helping Richland catch up with its sister cities’ retail and economic successes, from Columbia Center mall in Kennewick to the Autoplex in Pasco.
“You look at Richland right now, there is a solid retail section,” said John Darrington, one of four Richland city managers King worked for. “I think a large part of that is due to Bill King.”
Hand in many projects
When King was hired as the deputy city manager and community development director in September 1993, he had worked for the city of Scottsdale, Ariz., for 20 years.
“I was looking for a challenge,” he said. And he found many.
The Columbia Point area, considered one of the main entrances to the city, consisted only of an old golf course, the Shilo Inn and a yacht club with a chain link fence around it.
Richland sold development bonds for city-owned land and created a $3.9 million local improvement district in 1996. “We put in the infrastructure and recovered the investment costs as we sold the land,” King said.
That work, along with projects like Clover Island in Kennewick and the riverfront trail, helped transform the Tri-City riverfront, he said.
“The cities all came together to say we should work as a region to better utilize the river we have now,” King said. “When Pasco went after a grant, Richland and Kennewick said we’ll support you, and vice versa.”
He said such cooperation among the cities was rare in earlier years.
Today, Columbia Point has a new golf course and clubhouse, two Marriott hotels and an Anthony’s restaurant. The WinCo shopping center sits where a sewer treatment plant once stood. And the area is continuing to grow with new restaurants and a boutique hotel in the works.
On the other end of town, the Horn Rapids golf course community broke ground during King’s first week in Richland.
But that work was halted for years because of a legal dispute between the city and development partnerships. They disagreed over who would cover millions of dollars in unpaid local improvement district debts.
King worked with developers to get the golf course community restarted.
The area has sprouted since then, and today has more than 600 homes. In all, Richland’s population has grown 48 percent to 52,000 since King arrived.
The Queensgate area has exploded into a retail hub, Kadlec Regional Medical Center has bloomed into a sprawling medical district and Washington State University has expanded, most recently adding a Wine Science Center.
King also worked with the ports of Benton and Kennewick on the Tri-Cities Research District and Spaulding Business Park in the Island View area near the Richland Y.
He also helped set aside the Amon Basin and Badger Mountain preserves, giving residents highly popular hiking areas. And he used his architecture degree from Arizona State University to guide the construction of the city’s new library and community center.
It’s tough for King to pick a favorite project.
“You’re kind of passionate about the ones you’re working on at the moment,” he said.
The future of the city
When King leaves, the city also will retire the deputy city manager title. Instead, Richland will have an assistant city manager and a community development director.
Kerwin Jensen, who has been community development director and planning services manager in Montrose, Colo., since 2002, takes over as Richland’s community development director May 29.
“It’s time for kind of a new perspective,” King said. “I’m looking forward to the new leadership here. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, but it’s time to pass the baton.”
The issues the city faces include redevelopment in the downtown and waterfront areas and of the Swift Boulevard area, including a new City Hall.
The city also is working with developers on a new project at the former community center site on George Washington Way that could be like a smaller version of Seattle’s Pike Place Market.
“We’re hoping that will stimulate private investment near some of the vacant properties in that area,” King said.
King jokes that he plans to watch the developments from the front porch of his property in Franklin County, where he and his wife raise Morgan horses. He also plans to spend time traveling to visit his children.
King feels good about Richland’s future, partly because of people who are creating new businesses in the area.
“I think there’s much more of an entrepreneurial spirit in the Tri-Cities than there was,” he said. “We’ve always had highly educated people in the Tri-Cities, but I’m seeing the start-ups now. Hopefully, we’ll support and nurture those companies and they’ll grow into bigger companies.”
King is hopeful that new or redeveloped “urban cores” will spring up in the Tri-Cities, in Richland and at Vista Field in Kennewick. Downtown areas are more popular with young people.
“If we’re going to continue to attract the best minds and the best talent, we have to address those quality of life issues,” he said.