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Port of Kennewick, city work on how to reconnect Vista Field

Kennewick’s Vista Field and Three Rivers Entertainment District might blend together someday.

Done correctly, the redevelopment of the former airport and expansion efforts in the entertainment district would create a seamless, vibrant neighborhood, said Port of Kennewick and city of Kennewick officials.

But for now, the city, port and Kennewick Public Facilities District are trying to figure out how to get from here to there. Staff from all three agencies and their architects have been meeting recently, working on how to stitch together different plans.

Tremendous opportunities are falling into place, said City Manager Marie Mosley. The port’s closure of the former airport opened that area up for redevelopment. Now, the port is working on how to redevelop that property and the city and public facilities district are working on expansion plans for the entertainment district.

The public facilities district has been working on a concept to connect the Three Rivers Convention Center to the Toyota Center by adding concessions and a performing arts venue that also could act as extra convention space. Mosley said they would like the connection between the Toyota Center and convention center to be at ground level.

Voters turned down a bond to expand the convention center more than a year ago. The public facilities district is trying to figure out a way to pass a bond so it doesn’t lose out on business from larger conventions and the visitor spending they bring to local businesses.

The relatively new concept coming out of a weeklong community planning effort would break Vista Field and the surrounding area into smaller, more walkable blocks. That would include adding an alley for pedestrians and vehicles between the convention center and Toyota Center. The port recently released a draft framework for the plan by consulant Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co..

Most likely, the part of Vista Field near the convention center will be the first phase of the redevelopment project. Port Executive Director Tim Arntzen said the port wants to be able to have the entertainment district feed into the new town center. Once developed, Vista Field also will feed the entertainment district, which struggles to keep people in the area beyond a game, a concert or a convention.

The task in front of the city and port is bigger than trying to decide where a building or an alley goes, Arntzen said. Together, they need to ensure revitalization efforts are successful.

Arntzen and Mosley might differ in how big they think the issues are. But both said they can be solved.

Arntzen said he’s hopeful that they will land on an option where everyone gets close to what they wanted.

Mosley is confident the architects will come up with creative solutions. It’s important to be flexible so that the project can be shifted to make it better and more sustainable, she said.

“Both parties are using the word ‘connectivity,’” said Larry Peterson, the port’s director of planning and development. “The public facilities district wants to connect two building and … what (Duany Plater-Zyberk) has drawn up is trying to connect the community.”

Port officials are hopeful that an alley could go between the convention center and the Toyota Center. The small road would be mostly for pedestrians but would allow vehicle access. At times, it could even be blocked off from vehicles.

Michael Mehaffy, a project manager with Duany Plater-Zyberk, said he cautions clients about creating pedestrian-only zones because they can fail. Without vehicle traffic, such areas can shut down in the evenings, he said.

The development should be accessible whether someone is walking, taking a bus, riding a bicycle or driving, Mehaffy said.

The current road network in the Vista Field area is designed to move vehicles, said Laurence Qamar, project planner for Duany Plater-Zyberk. There is no on-street parking, the blocks are huge, and the roads are quite wide for a pedestrian to cross.

Small blocks are easier to walk. Within Vista Field, the cars would be slowed down to help make it a better environment for pedestrian and bicyclists.

Carol Moser, chairwoman of the Tri-Cities Alliance for a Liveable and Sustainable Community, said she likes the proposed street alignment, the winding paths of the roads within the development and the focus on pedestrian and bicyclist use.

The current framework proposes using on-street parking. Parking also will be hidden in some areas from public view by buildings, Qamar said.

There won’t be less parking; it will just be in different places. The current framework calls for about four parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of commercial development and two parking spaces per residence, Mehaffy said.

The draft framework does feature a phase one performing arts center where the former fixed base operator building is now. That would put it across Grandridge Boulevard, about 400 feet from the new SpringHill Suites by Marriott.

The public facilities district plans also include a performing arts center. If such a center is part of the convention center expansion, it would be state-of-the-art, not substandard, Mosley said. And it could be the front door to Vista Field.

The idea for building a performing arts center in two phases was first suggested less than 100 days ago, said Peterson. The arts community has begun discussing the concept and has more to chew over now that the draft framework has been released.

Ultimately, the arts group should be the one to decide what option works best, Mehaffy said.

Port Commission President Don Barnes said the port has offered a potential site and building materials and made it clear it lacks operation or construction funds. That doesn’t prevent the Arts Center Task Force from working with the city and public facilities district. In fact, the public facilities district ultimately could own the property the port provides for the first or second phase performing arts center.

Justin Raffa, Mid-Columbia Mastersingers director and board member of the Arts Center Task Force, told the port commission recently that the group will come and make a formal agreement to see the arts center project through when the time is right.

“We are so very excited about the plans for a performing arts center at Vista Field,” said Raffa, who also is a member of the Vista Vision Task Force.

The arts group understands the port does not have the cash and can help with that part of the project. “We will help make this vision a reality,” Raffa said.

Even once the vision is agreed upon, Arntzen said the port and partner agencies still will need to come up with a way to pay for it. It’s going to take some time before the first new construction project happens at Vista Field.

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