The infamous pit languishing at Richland's entrance has an end date — September.
Chicago-based Crown Development and its Richland-based partner, Boost Builds, applied for building permits this month for the project they call "Park Place." They're preparing to close a financing deal, have hired a contractor and plan to start moving utility lines this fall.
There's plenty riding on Park Place. Its developers and city officials hope Park Place and its decidedly urban design vibe will be a catalyst for redevelopment in the city's core.
"We really hope the influx of residential into downtown is going to spark an influx and nightlife," said Zach Ratkai, the city's economic development manager.
Kerwin Jensen, community development director, said the city has been pushing for redevelopment of the unsightly pit for years, only to see it delayed by competing visions for the site and difficulty in financing a new-to-the-market project.
"We are getting close," he said.
Boost Builds joined the Crown team last year. Formed by a pair of prominent Richland businessmen, its participation offers Park Place a local face.
Principals David Lippes and John Crook say they created the company to pursue projects like Park Place. Both want to play a role in reviving Richland's oldest neighborhoods, the core areas that have been overlooked as the city grew to the north and south.
City officials are thrilled that experienced, local investors are taking an interest.
"Richland has one of the best opportunities for a really cool downtown in the Tri-Cities," Ratkai said.
Lippes is a former Manhattan securities attorney and founder of TiLite, a Pasco wheelchair manufacturer that sold in 2014. Crooks is founder of Paragon Corporate Housing, a Richland company with a regional footprint managing corporate and private rental property.
One brings legal and financial expertise, the other commercial real estate.
Both say they're chiefly interested in legacy projects, not turning a fast profit.
"What I care about more than anything is building the community I want to live in," Lippes said.
"We have a real appetite for projects that will change the community."
Boost is drawn to urban projects near the river and Richland's network of trails and bike paths. Getting people out of their cars is a priority.
"Where can you live without a car? Let's give people that chance," Lippes said.
In less than a year, it developed an airy new home for Fuse SPC, joined the Park Place team and, more recently, closed a deal to purchase and redevelop a pair of underused office buildings on Jadwin Avenue. One will be refashioned into urban lofts.
Together, Park Place and the unnamed Jadwin project will bring about 200 units of upscale rentals to downtown.
Ratkai said that's a vision he can sell.
"Just the fact that we're bringing more residents to downtown sparks tremendous interest," he said. This week, he represented the city at one of the biggest commercial real estate gatherings of the year, the annual ICSC conference in Las Vegas.
Richland garnered plenty of attention, he said.
Fuse SPC moves to The Parkway
In its first venture, Boost teamed with Fuse SPC to create a new space to support its mission to encourage entrepreneurs with shared work space.
Lippes and Crook purchased a 1970s-era bank building at 723 The Parkway through a limited liability company.
The project turned a 4,000-square-foot bank packed with private offices and dark corridors into an airy, light-filled space. The common areas offer plenty of room for collaboration. Offices serve start-ups that plan to remain in the Tri-Cities.
Lippes and Crook provided the equity for the project. Fuse leases the building.
The Pit becomes Park Place
Richlanders are understandably jaded about the "the pit," a failed development that left a gravelly hole at the city's entrance for decades.
The city, which owns the 2.3-acre site, long wanted to do something special. In 2015, it selected Crown Group of Chicago to develop a gateway project.
Crown considered several ideas, including an office anchored by a public market. It eventually settled on a four-story apartment building with underground parking, an elevator and space for street-level retail.
Underground parking and an elevator both are are firsts for a Tri-City apartment project. The added cost contributed to the lengthy delays by making it harder to secure construction financing.
Boost joined Crown about a year ago, spying an opportunity to bring its urban vision to the city's main entrance. They praised Crown's Mark Lambert for pursuing a high-end project, even when banks were reluctant to lend on something that hadn't been seen here before.
While the site itself is unchanged, the team has worked to secure financing.
Lippes and Crook report they're close to closing a $17 million financing agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The HUD loan will support about 70 percent of the $20 million-plus cost. Developer equity and private investment will cover the balance.
Once the financing is secure, the city will sell the property to Crown and step out of the picture.
Richland-based Fowler Construction is the contractor.
Portland-based TVA Architects designed the 106-unit apartment building to face Howard Amon Park to the east. A pair of single-story retail buildings totaling about 5,000 square feet will face George Washington Way to the west, opening to a common space between them.
The first step in development is to move water and sewer lines. That work can't begin until the HUD loan is finished and the developers own the land.
Crook said his corporate rental company will lease some units. Boost views Park Place as a long-term investment.
"We're just going to hold it," Lippes said.
Rethinking Jadwin's concrete bunkers
Boost was the successful bidder in a March auction for the Tri-Cities Professional Center, two concrete-clad office buildings at 1100 and 1200 Jadwin Ave. The buildings total 160,000 square feet and sit on roughly 10 acres leased from the city since 1976.
The purchase price wasn't available, but the property has a taxable value of about $5 million.
One building is partly leased to a mix of office tenants. The other has been empty for several years after a leak on the top floor flooded the entire building over a weekend. It is boarded up but shows signs of trespassing.
Boost will groom the tangled landscape and give the occupied building a new roof and Class A touches.
The second, larger building is in for a down-to-the-studs renovation that will convert the clunky concrete-clad structure into a sleek, glassy, loft-style apartment building that would be at home in Seattle or Portland.
Lippes and Crook said the durable concrete structure would be too expensive to demolish. The overbuilt structure will provide a solid frame for an urban makeover.
They hired Seattle-based Johnson Oaklief Architecture and Planning this week to begin developing a plan. The firm brings experience in conversion projects, but Lippes and Crook pledged to hire Tri-City contractors to handle other aspects of the ambitious project.
Boost is negotiating to buy the campus from the city and says the site could accommodate additional development.
Ratkai confirmed it is discussing a sale. The city has long viewed the property as a key to downtown development. It structured the land lease in the 1970s to encourage the original project and constructed the Urban Greenbelt Trail through the property at the time.
Today, it's eager to recast downtown as a desirable place to live and play.