For years, Richland residents have been driving past the rubble on George Washington Way where the city's old community center once stood.
The city sold the land near the CREHST museum back in 2002, but developer after developer has failed to realize the city council's vision for an urban-style development that would bring retail, offices and housing under one roof.
So the city is taking matters into its own hands.
The city council approved an agreement with Charter Bank to buy a mortgage note the developer owes on the property, and intends to foreclose and take the land back, Deputy City Manager Bill King said.
"Toward the end of this year we expect to get the property back or get paid a lot more money than we paid for the note," King said.
The city paid $385,000 for the note, but King said about $750,000 is owed on it.
The city agreed to sell the old community house to developer Jadwin Square Group in 2002 because it liked the company's proposal for a five-story building combining retail space with housing and an underground parking garage.
But Jadwin Square Group fell on hard times and wasn't able to build, so a Bellevue-based company called Bristol Homes bought Jadwin Square Group in 2006 and tore down the community house to get the land ready for construction.
Bristol's President Mike Mortimer told the Herald back in 2007 that Bristol hit a snag of its own when the nation's real estate market went soft.
The company was reluctant to back a 60-unit condominium development and didn't want to start a project it couldn't finish, he said.
So Bristol went back to the drawing board to rethink its plan, after putting about $450,000 into the project.
With its location close to parks, the waterfront, Richland's new community center and Kadlec Regional Medical Center, the company thought it was an ideal place for senior living.
The age-restricted condos would be smaller than in the original plan so the company could fit 80 of them into the same size building, rather than the 60 condos originally conceived. But the council was reluctant to alter its original vision for the site, and never gave final approval to Bristol's alternate proposal.
The city took Bristol to court, and in 2008 got a court order that could force Bristol to build what Jadwin originally proposed.
But Bristol since appears to have gone out of business. The company's phone was disconnected when the Herald sought an interview with Mortimer on Friday, and the Secretary of State's Office shows the corporation, along with companion Bristol Development LLC, as inactive since earlier this year.
Mayor John Fox said taking over the mortgage note was an important step, but that a lengthy process remains before the land is developed.
A foreclosure will take months, and once that's over and the city regains ownership of the land, Fox thinks it still may take some time and thought before the city looks for a new developer.
"It depends on the general economic and investment climate, which still is not good for people," Fox said. "I don't know if it would be worthwhile to go out for proposals as soon as we regain the property."
Fox thinks the city's adoption of a Central Business District zone -- which would apply a different set architectural and design standards, and allow for a taller building -- might make the site more attractive to someone who wants to build there.
But the failures of previous developers to make a mixed-use concept work has Fox a bit hesitant.
"I think that's a good reason to rethink it before we go out for proposals," he said. "We have options there. We can be more flexible or ask for a wider range of proposals. We don't need to accept one if we don't like it."
He expects that the council would want to engage the public in discussion about the site before making any decision about a new direction for development.
In the meantime, he hopes Richlanders will be patient while the city works to regain the property.
"I think this is an important step forward," Fox said of the recent council action. "It lays the groundwork for the future but it's still going to be some time in realizing a successful development in that. We have to ask people to bear with us on that."
While one project languishes, another appears ready to move forward. The council on Tuesday will consider leasing two parcels to ConAgra Lamb Weston to be used for a public green space area and a parking area on the east side of a new corporate office building. The parking lot would be available for public use after hours and on weekends.
Approval of the leases is the last step toward closing a $1.4 million, 8.6-acre land purchase by ConAgra north and east of Bradley Boulevard near the intersection of Comstock Street.
The company plans to build a $28 million building at the site to house 300 employees of Lamb Weston, a ConAgra subsidiary focused on potato processing. Most of those employees would come from the Lamb Weston headquarters the company says it has outgrown on Gage Boulevard in Kennewick.
Richland and ConAgra in 2007 reached an option agreement for the land transaction. The deal sparked a public debate about riverfront development and open space.
The council meets at 7:30 p.m. in the council chambers at city hall.