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Vista Field theater agreement reached. Now, the project needs $25M

The Port of Kennewick and Total Site Services break ground Monday on a $4.9 million infrastructure project that will set the stage to redevelop Vista Field, the  103-acre former municipal airport in the heart of the city.
The Port of Kennewick and Total Site Services break ground Monday on a $4.9 million infrastructure project that will set the stage to redevelop Vista Field, the 103-acre former municipal airport in the heart of the city. Tri-City Herald

An 800-seat theater in the Tri-Cities moved a step closer to opening night with an agreement reached Tuesday.

The Port of Kennewick agreed to transfer 2.2 acres of prime real estate at Vista Field to an arts group that wants to build in the middle of the future urban village.

The port signed a letter of intent with Arts Center Task Force to sell the site for $10,000 — a nominal price that takes into account the boost the theater could give to the larger redevelopment of the former airport’s 103 acres in the center of the Tri-Cities.

The deal won’t be legally binding until the two sides enter a purchase and sale agreement.

The letter of intent is more than symbolic. It is a key step for the arts group, which will have to raise about $25 million in private donations to build a center in the next four years that will become home to a number of arts organizations.

The 2.2 acres is at the center of the future redevelopment and is expected to be a headline-generating amenity when it begins operating.

“We have the land,” said Steven Wiley, president of the Arts Center Task Force, a nonprofit based in Richland.

Wiley said the task force has already raised several hundred thousand dollars to date to cover architectural designs for the concept. It has commitments for about $1 million of the project cost.

Wiley said the group is proceeding carefully to ensure it has its proverbial ducks in a row before it asks for major financial commitments. The Arts Center Task Force will offer naming rights for various aspects of the center to major sponsors.

If all goes well, it will formally buy the property and begin construction in about three years, with the center opening in about four years.

It can’t open fast enough, Boyce Burdick, president of the board of the Mid-Columbia Symphony, told the port commission. The symphony performs at the Richland High School Auditorium, but will be displaced by a modernization project by next year.

“It’s none too soon to get (Vista Arts Center) built,” he said.

The Vista Arts Center is distinct from the Kennewick Public Facilities District’s plan to expand the Three Rivers Convention Center with a 2,300-seat Broadway style theater. Kennewick voters rejected a sales tax that would have funded that project, called “The Link,” last August.

The two projects are viewed as complementary elements of a larger entertainment district that could spawn hotel, restaurant and business development.

The port closed Vista Field, a former municipal airport, in late 2013 and is working with the city of Kennewick and consultants on plans for a mix of residential, office, retail and restaurant uses, as well as park at the property.

It is expected to inspire $460 million in private investment, increasing local tax rolls by about $400 million.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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