Port of Kennewick looks at Vista Field studies today

KENNEWICK -- Two new studies detailing costs of closing and redeveloping Vista Field and the economic impact of the small airport will be presented today to Port of Kennewick commissioners.

The reports are expected to help the three commissioners make a decision on a thorny issue that's proved to be a drain on the port's resources, Tim Arntzen, the port's executive director, said during a re-cent meeting with the Herald's editorial board.

"I'll present the evidence. I don't know how they'll make their decision," he said. The port paid $21,500 for the latest studies.

The port has been studying whether to keep the airport open after suggestions by Kennewick city officials that the land could be more profitably developed as part ofthe Vista Entertainment District.

The commission will make a formal decision about the future of Vista Field on March 8 at a public meeting.

The report by HDR Engineering estimates closure and redevelopment costs for the more than 106 acres in and around the airport fornonaviation-related commercial use at almost$8 million.

That would include some site remediation such as pavement removal and demolition of the fixed-base operator building, hangars and refueling station and providing streets and utilities.

HDR's economic impact analysis estimates the Vista Field airport helps generate $53 million in business and supports 211 jobs with nearly$10 million in annual wages.

Closure of Vista Field would make two businesses -- Cadwell Laboratories and Advanced Medical Isotope Corp. -- relocate outside the Tri-Cities, the report says. That would mean a loss of 121 jobs and more than $6 million in payroll annually, and the potential loss of future investment of $10.1 million and 72 new jobs.

Keeping the airport open would have a positive impact on the regional economy through construction and long-term operations, particularly at Vista Field-dependent businesses, the report says.

Carl Cadwell, president of Cadwell Laboratories and an airport supporter, has offered to directly invest about $8 million to help implement the vision of the port's 2006 Vista Field Master Plan. He also has offered to invest an additional $10 million over the next decade to promote mixed-use development of the land adjacent to the airport, according to HDR Engineering.

In 10 years, Vista Field would create or retain up to 415 permanent jobs and have a business output of more than $88 million annually, the report says.

The port has commissioned several studies on Vista Field since 2006 with a total cost of about $111,000 that looked at what would be required to relocate airport operations and to understand the legal steps required to close the airport, said Larry Peterson, the port's director of planning and development.

The port doesn't have the money to close the airport, Peterson said, but that alone wouldn't guide the commissioners' decision. He said they also will look at the possibilities of job creation and economic growth and transportation benefits by keeping Vista Field open.

-- Pratik Joshi: 582-1541;