Richland’s waterfront would become a retail-packed destination for wealthy, young professionals under a development plan presented to city leaders Thursday.
Roger Brooks, an Arizona-based consultant originally from the Puget Sound area, presented a list of 27 public and private projects meant to convert Richland’s lackluster downtown and waterfront into a regional hangout dubbed the “Richland Waterfront District.”
By making a few strategic investments in amenities such as street trees and improving George Washington Way, Brooks said Richland could attract private developers eager to be part of the next trendy neighborhood.
“This is about making Richland the place where the Tri-Cities comes to hang out,” Brooks told the City Council during an unusual Thursday night study session.
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The estimated price tag for the public’s share of the waterfront investments — $40 million.
“We’re not going to pass a bond for $40 million,” said Mayor Bob Thompson, one of the few comments offered by council members during the lengthy presentation.
Highlights include “taming” George Washington Way, which he called the “Great Wall of China” that divides downtown from the Columbia River.
Narrowing George Washington Way to four lanes from five, adding pedestrian crossings and flanking it with street trees would improve the appearance of the city’s primary entrance and attract people and investment, he said. Large entrance gateways would tell visitors they’ve arrived someplace special.
Columbia Point South, the neglected territory south of Interstate 182, would be developed into a theme park, trails, kayak rentals and a sailing school. He called a theme park the highest, best use of the city’s 120 acres at Columbia Point. He presented the site to several theme park operators and there’s strong interest in the concept, he said.
To the north, he proposes packing the existing waterfront with retail operations to monetize the waterfront. West Marine, a chain of retail stores catering to boaters, could open a shop at Columbia Marina Park. Upscale condominiums, residences and restaurants would be packed into city-controlled spots all along the waterfront.
Brooks offered a somewhat reluctant nod to siting the proposed Tri-Cities Public Market at 650 George Washington Way over other sites, including Howard Amon Park.
While Brooks would prefer a market with a public pavilion, he acknowledged the community support for the market plan advanced by Adam Brault and Crown Group. The team has a development agreement for the city-owned property and has lobbied heavily for approval and support to construct its market-anchored project at the site called the “pit.”
The market group has begun raising the $18 million it estimates it needs to build the public market portion of the property. Private investment will cover the $25 million cost for offices and apartments above the public market.
The Brooks waterfront vision is just that, a vision.
The council will solicit feedback from city residents as it moves toward a final plan. Brooks intends to make final recommendations this summer, he said. The notion of packing the waterfront with commercial ventures and narrowing an already congested George Washington Way will certainly generate a heated public conversation.
Brooks said time is of the essence. A few select investments now will signal that the city is serious and developers will follow. Otherwise, the waterfront plan will succumb to the fate of its dozens of predecessors.
“We do plans and after three years, they sit on the shelf collecting dust,” he said.
Changing George Washington Way and creating a pedestrian-friendly environment should be Richland’s first priority, Brooks said. The five-lane road is essentially a freeway running through the city. He suggests converting it into a narrower road with Jadwin Avenue providing some relief. Sidewalks, planters and street-facing cafes would create lively gathering spots and signal that Richland is serious about reinventing its brand.
Trees every 30 to 70 feet along the roadside would be a good first start, he said.
“The thing about Eastern Washington that bugs all of us from Western Washington — the lack of trees,” he said.