Kennewick's Vista Field looks pretty much like what it is — a sagebrush-covered expanse that used to be an airfield, and not much else.
But in the not-too-distant future, it will resemble an Italian village, right down to charming fountain plazas, a canal-lined walkway and stucco buildings that merge seamlessly into "woonerfs" — a trendy Dutch term for streets where cars, bicycles and pedestrians share equal footing.
At least, that's the vision contained in conceptual drawings released Thursday by the Port of Kennewick, which owns the site.
The port closed the 103-acre municipal airport to planes at the end of 2013, citing the financial burden of supporting an air field that receives no money from the Federal Aviation Administration.
After several years of public meetings and negotiations with the city of Kennewick to create a special zoning for the area, it has narrowed its vision of a mixed use commercial and residential neighborhood anchored by an 800-seat performing arts center in the heart of Kennewick.
And those woonerfs or shared streets will play a central role in creating a place where people, not cars reign supreme.
The port is borrowing the Dutch concept of a "woonerf" to reflect its commitment to not only vehicles, but bicycles and pedestrians as well. Woonerfs can be closed to vehicles for special events.
The shared street concept is growing in popularity with American city planners.
Vista Field landed its first commitment one year ago when the Arts Center Task Force staked a claim for a spot at the center for its 800-seat Vista Arts Center, a privately-funded venue catering to local, regional and smaller touring productions.
Vista Arts Center is distinct from the failed "Link" project that would have added a 2,300 seat theater at the Three Rivers Convention Center. Voters rejected the Link three times, most recently last fall.
Conceptual drawings for Vista Field place the arts center at the core of Vista Field, showing it fronting a fountain in a plaza that, in turn, fronts a park with a large pond and open-air pavilion.
The pond is part of a larger water feature that includes a canal. Images show sleepy streets flanked by European-style buildings with pitched roofs, second-story balconies and other architectural features that are light years away from the suburban subdivision style that marks much of Kennewick.
The port is finalizing engineering designs for the initial phase, which includes utilities, streets, sidewalls, trees and lights and hopes to advertise the $5 million to $7 million project to contractors this fall. If all goes well, the port will be ready to sell development sites to private developers next year.
The port plans to recruit pop-up retailers and food trucks to the site during the initial phases of development to encourage visitors to come to the property. The closed runway could be a prime kite-flying spot.
It is funding its share of the project with current revenue and a possible bank loan. Land sales will fund future projects.
At full build-out, Vista Field is expected to be home to about 1,100 residential units of all types and prices, as well as commercial and recreational spaces.
It is expected to attract up to $500 million in private investments.