RICHLAND -- After more than three years of waiting and negotiating, Richland may be within a month of closing a deal with ConAgra Foods for 8.6 acres at Columbia Point where the company plans a new corporate headquarters.
Two lease agreements are on their way to City Manager Cindy Johnson for signature after being approved by the city council last week.
Once those leases are signed by the city and Con-Agra, the two can move forward with closing the $1.4 million land sale.
The city approved an option agreement with the food processing conglomerate in April 2007 for the land at Columbia Point where the company plans to build a $28 million corporate headquarters for its Lamb Weston subsidiary.
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The site is expected to house 300 employees, most of whom would come from the existing headquarters on Gage Boulevard in Kennewick.
Lamb Weston employs about 3,000 people in the Mid-Columbia to grow and process billions of pounds of potatoes.
The company has local offices in Kennewick, two processing plants in Pasco, a processing plant and a technical center that includes research and development departments in Richland, and several additional processing plants throughout the Mid-Columbia.
The option agreement stirred controversy in Richland from citizens who balked at the $3.50 per square foot price Lamb Weston would pay for the land and raised concerns about preserving open spaces near the Columbia River's shoreline.
The agreement later was amended when the company decided to locate its building on the opposite side of Bradley Boulevard and add nearly an acre to the original 7.7-acre deal.
ConAgra will pay $3.50 per square-foot for the first 335,412 square feet and $6 per square foot for 40,511 square feet under the contract approved by the council in June 2009.
The deal also calls for Con-Agra and the city to split the $500,000 cost of realigning Bradley Boulevard to accommodate the office building, and for ConAgra to lease two lots sitting on top of an old landfill.
The company will pay to develop one lot as a riverfront park and the other as a parking lot. The parking lot will be open for public use after business hours and on weekends.
But the $1 per year lease rate for each of the lots has been another point of controversy.
City Councilwoman Sheila Sullivan said during the council discussion of the lease Tuesday that she thinks the city is losing too much control over the old landfill without getting much in return.
"ConAgra can dictate what happens there," she said. "There can be no benches and no artwork unless they give the OK. I think for $1 a year they're getting the sweetest deal I've ever heard of."
But Gary Ballew, the city's economic development manager, countered that without the lease to ConAgra the lot would sit there and grow weeds.
"This will provide something nice and attractive for citizens," Ballew said. "Right now it is a brown spot in an otherwise green area. We come at this from different angles."
The rest of the council sided with Ballew, and the leases were approved on a 5-1 vote. Councilman David Rose was absent.
Ballew said Friday the city doesn't have any date when ConAgra might start construction. First the land sale has to close, then Bradley Boulevard has to be realigned before work can start on the office building.
"It's up to their schedule," he said.