ConAgra Lamb Weston had plans to build its corporate headquarters on a prime piece of property purchased from the city of Richland in 2010.
It took about three years of negotiations for the $1.43 million deal to be made. But times -- and the economy -- have changed, and the frozen potato producer has decided to keep its officers where they're at off Gage Boulevard in Kennewick.
But rather than put the 8.6 acres of land on the market to the highest bidder, Lamb Weston has a more creative idea.
It wants to trade the Columbia Point site back to the city in exchange for 80 acres at Horn Rapids Industrial Park, where Lamb Weston would build an automated warehouse and create 50 to 70 jobs in the process.
Richland's Deputy City Manager Bill King said the value of the land is about the same, with $18,500 per acre for the Horn Rapids property totaling $1.48 million.
Lamb Weston says the Columbia Point land it owns is now worth two to three times the price the company paid in 2010. In exchange for the Horn Rapids property -- and a five-year option on an additional 80 acres at the same price -- Lamb Weston would sign the title back over to the city.
This deal makes a lot of sense.
Lamb Weston will remodel its existing offices, keeping the company headquarters in Kennewick. And it will create a new facility, expanding agribusiness in Richland and creating new jobs.
By swapping the Columbia Point land back to the city, Richland also gets control over the fate of a prime piece of property in an area of prominent, high-end development.
Lamb Weston is well in its rights to just sell the land and turn a profit. But it seems to us the company is looking out for the community, while keeping its own bottom line in check.
The company has already demonstrated a propensity for contributing to the Tri-Cities.
By stepping in to replace Budweiser as the primary corporate sponsor for Water Follies, Lamb Weston has kept the community's signature event alive.
Its support for Second Harvest is helping to feed hungry children in the Tri-Cities all year-round.
The proposed land swap might not be charity, but it looks generous nonetheless. One hitch in the plan is that it doesn't look like city council members have been briefed on the proposal as well as they would have liked.
Some members apparently only learned of the staff recommendation to approve the deal in the information packet they received the Friday before a Monday council meeting.
That caused some distress on the part of council members, and they voted 4-3 last week to take some more time to consider the proposal. It's not that they disliked the plan, but given the magnitude of the land swap, they wanted a more thorough vetting of the proposal.
The deal would have the city paying for the building permit for the $35 million warehouse at Horn Rapids.
We appreciate the councilmembers' desire to evaluate the documents more thoroughly and make sure they are acting in the city's best interest. Given the value of the assets, anything less than due diligence would be negligent.
But we also understand Lamb Weston's desire to find out if the deal will be approved so it can move forward with the substantial development of a new facility at Horn Rapids.
The council understood the urgency. It may vote as early as the next meeting on Nov. 29 and no later than Dec. 6, so a decision is eminent. Let's hope we'll be seeing a new frozen food warehouse at Horn Rapids and a whole new world of possibilities for Richland at Columbia Point when the vote is taken once again.