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Port of Kennewick backs off on contested alley to Vista Field

Port of Kennewick commissioners stepped back from a much discussed alleyway included in the proposed plans for the redevelopment of Vista Field.

They unanimously decided Tuesday to remove the suggested alleyway between the Three Rivers Convention Center and the Toyota Center from the port’s draft master plan.

That decision was made toward the end of a three-hour joint meeting with the port, Kennewick City Council and Kennewick Public Facilities District held at the convention center.

Port officials have been trying to determine how best to connect the port-owned Vista Field to the Three Rivers Entertainment District and the surrounding area.

That has included working with the community and consultant Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. on how to allow pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles to move between the core of Vista Field and the convention center and coliseum.

The port had asked the public facilities district, which owns the convention center, to consider an alleyway for vehicles and pedestrians between the convention center and Toyota Center to help Vista Field build off activity at the two venues.

But the alleyway also is where the public facilities district wants to put a building. The district is working on a concept that would add multipurpose and concessions space and connect the convention center and the city-owned Toyota Center. The multipurpose exhibit hall also is being considered as a potential performing arts venue.

The council has a say in convention center expansion plans because the public facilities district needs city permission to take on any more debt.

Rustin Hall of ALSC Architects showed a preliminary idea of what the expanded convention center would look like. He is working with the public facilities district on a plan for an expanded convention center that the public facilities district can take to voters.

The lobby of the expanded convention center would connect to an atrium-like food court area that would serve as a bridge between the convention center and the coliseum, Hall explained.

Pedestrians would be able to move through the food court, and it could be used by both convention-goers and sports fans. The outside walls of the food court also could be opened up to allow greater pedestrian access, Hall said.

Vehicle access could happen once the coliseum is demolished. There could be multiple uses for the property where the coliseum is now, and each could connect to the convention center with a skybridge.

Michael Mehaffy, a project manager with Duany Plater-Zyberk, also showed a number of drawings of how the convention center and coliseum could be connected while allowing vehicles and pedestrians access, including a sky bridge, bringing the alley under the food court area and leaving the food court open to the air.

Port commissioners, city councilmen and public facilities district members all emphasized how important it was to cooperate since the success of the redevelopment of Vista Field and the expanded entertainment district are closely intertwined.

Councilman Don Britain said it was frustrating to have so much focus on a small alleyway that could potentially sidetrack the expansion of the convention center, a key economic driver in the Tri-City area.

There is no final plan for Vista Field and the entertainment district, said Kennewick Mayor Steve Young.

“What we do have is an overarching vision for a vibrant and unique gathering place with mixed use development,” Young said. “We also have a shared passion with our community for the numerous opportunities that exist.”

Port Commissioner Skip Novakovich suggested the port remove the small street between the convention center and coliseum from the port’s draft master plan.

He said if that is what is keeping the public facilities district and the port from moving forward, then the alleyway needs to be removed. It can be considered at a later date.

Some questions were raised about the financial feasibility of Vista Field redevelopment and the convention center expansion.

Bob Tory, longtime Americans general manager and co-owner, has questioned the idea of connecting to the Toyota Center when the 27-year-old facility is in desperate need of capital improvements. He wants more discussion on building a replacement coliseum.

The nonprofit Arts Center Task Force has been working with the Port of Kennewick on an idea for a standalone, first-phase performing arts center on port-owned Vista Field property. The group includes the Mid-Columbia Symphony, Mid-Columbia Mastersingers, Mid-Columbia Ballet and Mid-Columbia Musical Theatre.