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Kennewick officials hope state program will pay for Vista Field redevelopment

While the community works on redevelopment plans for Kennewick’s Vista Field, city officials are trying to find the money to jump start the development.

A bill suggested by Sen. Sharon Brown, a former Kennewick councilwoman, would resurrect a program the city used to drive the development of the Southridge area.

The bill would make $5 million more in state dollars available to the state local revitalization financing program and allow local governments to submit new projects, with the most competitive chosen for the program. The money would first be available in fiscal year 2018.

Kennewick has a “shovel-ready” project that would work well for the program, Mayor Pro Tem Don Britain told the Senate Trade & Economic Development Committee at a public hearing last week.

Vista Field is ready to be redeveloped and is a great opportunity because it is in the hub of existing Tri-City retail, he said.

City Manager Marie Mosley said the city believes the community could create the same synergy at Vista Field as it did in Southridge.

With Southridge, the city council approved a $13.7 million bond for work on Southridge and Hildebrand boulevards, Plaza Way and Ridgeline Drive and to finish the second phase of the Southridge Sports & Events Complex. The Port of Kennewick, Benton County and the Kennewick Public Hospital District also made the project possible by helping pay the bond debt using some of new tax revenues they are receiving from development in Southridge.

Kennewick officials actively recruited businesses and developers for the Southridge area, Brown said. And a lot of the planning work already had been done by staff and previous council members.

As a result, commercial and residential development was attracted to what had been bare ground, she said.

So far, Southridge has brought in 16 new business and added nearly 100 new full-time jobs, Britain said.

Last year, the state received $4.9 million in sales tax from the Southridge area, Mosley said. It sent back $500,000 to help pay the debt service on the city bonds.

The bulk of the sales tax — 6.5 percent — goes to the state, while the city gets .85 percent, Mosley said.

“This program is the most successful thing I have ever seen in local government economic development,” said Phil Watkins, who has lobbied for Kennewick for 14 years and has a lengthy background with city governments.

Brown said the additional revenue the state has received from Southridge can help pay for education.

Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, said she isn’t afraid of programs like this if they can help pay for education.

Doug Levy, a lobbyist who represents several cities, said the local governments take the risk with the program. The state doesn’t pay any money until the project gets off of the ground.

Brian Bonlender, Washington State Department of Commerce director, told the committee he couldn’t support the bill because there was no funding for it in Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget.

But he did say that tax increment financing is an important economic tool, and one the state has struggled to establish for some time. That’s because in the state, property tax goes to pay for schools, so projects have to have a strong retail component and bring in new sales tax revenue to be able to pay bond debt.

Brown’s bill, Senate Bill 5109, is scheduled for an executive session Feb. 18. The companion bill, House Bill 1648, passed out of the House Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs Committee and has been referred to the Finance Committee. The House version which has been sponsored by Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, and Rep. Joan McBride, D-Kirkland.