KENNEWICK — Less than a year after Kennewick paid $2.46 million to settle a lawsuit with Columbia Park Golf Course owner Gary Long Jr., another legal challenge is looming with a different developer involving the riverfront park property.
The second legal battle is set for trial this fall with Aaron Beasley, president and owner of Tri-River Sports Facilities Inc., alleging Kennewick and Richland backed out of an "exclusive option for the development of a multipurpose community center project" at the west end of Columbia Park.
Beasley approached Kennewick officials in early 2006 with big ideas about how to develop a portion of about 150 acres of the park into a destination resort with various recreational amenities. The park is leased from the Army Corps of Engineers and shared by the two cities.
Two years later, according to Beasley, the cities withdrew their support.
"The cities have been unjustly enriched by the time, expenses, efforts and resources that Tri-River expended," the lawsuit claims.
Beasley sued in Benton County Superior Court last May, one month after Long settled with Kennewick. Beasley claims he entered into an exclusive development option with Kennewick in February 2006, that a model of the project was presented to the city and put on display at both city halls that summer.
The lawsuit also claims the cities created a joint task force to work with Beasley, who relied on the development option agreement in hiring attorneys, architects, consultants and designers.
Beasley's lawsuit claims the cities didn't pay a share of the costs for consultants and expenses as they had promised and by April 2008 they announced they would not honor the development option agreement.
"The cities intentionally and/or negligently prevented, blocked and delayed Tri-River's development plans," the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, the cities announced May 5, 2008 -- one week after backing away from Beasley's proposal -- a new plan.
"The Columbia Park West plan ... championed by the cities is essentially the same plan that Tri-River spent money, time, resources and effort developing since 2005," says Beasley's lawsuit.
The area envisioned for development is where the Hanford Reach Interpretative Center is planned and a groundbreaking was held in October.
Chad Freebourn, the Seattle attorney representing Beasley, said Kennewick gave exclusive rights for the same property in Columbia Park to Tri-River and to Gary Long Jr., owner of the Columbia Park Golf Course, and "neither of them could go forward."
Long sued, settling his case with Kennewick.
Freebourn said Beasley included the city of Richland with Kennewick because of additional claims not available to Long.
Richland Deputy City Administrator Bill King said the city doesn't agree with Beasley's allegations, and is responding to requests for documents.
Freebourn said he intends to take depositions of several Kennewick city officials and those who were on the city council before 2008.
"There's another project going on right now (in Columbia Park). We want to see if it fits on top of what we proposed. Our stuff went in front of the city, and there were a lot of things our client had to go through to get the design," he said.
Kennewick City Attorney Lisa Beaton said they deny all the lawsuit assertions.
"We've filed an answer and have George Fearing as our attorney. We are just getting into (the) discovery (phase)," she said.