Local

It’s gonna be fly. Kennewick’s former airport about to take off

360 view of Vista Field in Kennewick

Chain link fencing surrounding the former 103-acre Vista Field Airport in Kennewick will no longer be needed as the Port of Kennewick and City of Kennewick move forward with the Vista Field Redevelopment Master Plan. The plan calls for converting
Up Next
Chain link fencing surrounding the former 103-acre Vista Field Airport in Kennewick will no longer be needed as the Port of Kennewick and City of Kennewick move forward with the Vista Field Redevelopment Master Plan. The plan calls for converting

Four years after Kennewick’s Vista Field closed to aircraft, the 103-acre patch in the heart of the Tri-Cities is about to start a long-term transformation that backers hope will become the region’s downtown.

The Port of Kennewick and the city of Kennewick have signed off with a master plan and development agreement for the ambitious undertaking, Oct. 24 for the port and Dec. 5 for the city. The two celebrated the critical step with cake Tuesday.

The documents are critical steps that set the stage for physical work to finally start at the former airfield.

Vista Field is in the geographical heart of the Tri-Cities, and the public has been clear that it wants something special and urban built there.

While the city reviewed the master plan, the port was busy developing engineering plans, and specifications for roads and infrastructure to support the future urban village.

It is mulling historic names associated with the site as well as aviation and World War II-related terms as well.

Larry Peterson, director of planning and development, said it is ready to apply for permits to proceed with the first phase of construction next spring. If all goes according to plan, it will solicit bids to construct utilities, roads and other infrastructure serving about 20 acres in August. That work should occur between September of 2018 and April of 2019.

By April 19, 2019, the first phase will be ready for private developers to begin constructing the first of the around 1,100 private residences and 750,000 square feet of commercial space, which includes retail, restaurants, professional services and offices.

Also around that time, the port will begin remodeling the three remaining aircraft hangars on the site for future tenants.

Private sector taking notice

The port projects it will take 20 years to complete its vision of a lively urban center to give the Tri-Cities its much-desired “there”. Market demand will drive the actual timing.

An economic analysis prepared by ECONorthwest in 2013 projects that the project will represent almost $500 million in mostly private investment at full build out.

The private sector is taking notice.

The nonprofit Arts Center Task Force was the first private developer to sign a letter of intent. It inked a $10,000 deal to purchase 2.2 acres at Vista Field in March.

The task force plans to construct its Vista Arts Center in the heart of the district. The $25 million, privately funded center will have a roughly 800-seat theater and other amenities to support the local arts community.

The arts center deal is timed to close by March 31, 2019, on schedule with the completion of the initial utility and road work.

Vista-inspired private development also is starting in neighborhoods that flank Vista Field.

The Tri-City franchise of Chuck E. Cheese, the kid-friendly pizza and entertainment chain, is building a new restaurant nearby to take advantage of the uptick in traffic and visitors, according to the city’s economic development department.

To accommodate the urban village vision, the city adapted its its rules for zoning, street design standards, landscaping requirements, lighting and other requirements.

A walkable neighborhood

Peterson called the city’s support a “huge” milestone for Vista Field.

For instance, the city dropped limits on building heights at Vista Field, a holdover from its past as an airport.

Now, developers can go as high as they want, though the economics of land development in the Tri-Cities mean most buildings will likely be two to three stories.

The port will not impose green building requirements on private developers. Peterson said the nature of the project will encourage energy efficiency.

Vista Field is intended to be a walkable neighborhood where residents, workers and visitors get around by foot.

And Peterson notes that building codes are stricter than they were a decade ago, meaning 2007’s voluntary steps are 2017’s mandatory ones.

For instance, as of July 18, all lights must be on motion sensors.

495 single family homes

250 condominiums

350 apartments

740,000 square feet of commercial space

273,000 square feet of parks and open space

While the port has designed streets, it hasn’t named them.

Peterson said Vista Field does not naturally connect to the surrounding street grid. That leaves it free to embrace new names.

It is mulling historic names associated with the site as well as aviation and World War II-related terms as well.

Vista Field was constructed prior to 1943. It support flight training activities at the Pasco Naval Air Station during World War II. After the war, it was transferred to the Kennewick Irrigation District and later to the city of Kennewick, which sold it to the port in 1991.

The port controversially closed Vista Field at the end of 2013 over costs.

Unlike the better-used Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Pasco and the Richland Airport, it was not eligible for Federal Aviation Administration funding and required taxpayer subsidies to remain open.

Documents and a historical narrative of the Vista Field project are available online at portofkennewick.org/about/vista-field//

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

  Comments