An empty pit mars Richland’s gateway to the city. That’s about to change

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Take a look at the location where some new apartment complex are slated to be.

More than a decade ago, a development near Howard Amon Park faltered, leaving an unsightly pit at Richland’s front door.

Year after year, motorists tooled past the site and city leaders contemplated what to do with the 2.3-acre site it owns.

The property is unquestionably valuable, situated near the intersection of George Washington Way and Lee Boulevard, near a main entrance to the city and next to one of its iconic riverfront parks.

It had to be special, a worthy gateway to the central city.

But should it be a public market, or an office building? Apartments or a retail complex?

Shifting visions kept the pit on hold.

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Three years ago, the city chose Chicago-based Crown Development Group to build an office-and-retail complex. The partners inked a sale agreement that would be amended eight times as the vision shifted and deadlines passed.

The project detoured in 2016, when citizens stepped forward with a pitch to include a Tri-Cities Public Market into the mix. Crown embraced the concept.

The city rejected the plan and market supporters shifted their attention to Pasco, which has embraced the idea.

In the process, the office tenant pulled out of the project. Crown re-imagined the project as an apartment-and-retail complex, a reasonable call for a market with vacancy rates 3 three percent or lower.

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Next week, the dirt will finally fly at 650 George Washington Way.

At 11:30 a.m. Dec. 14, Crown and its local partner, Richland-based Boost Builds, will gather with city officials and the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce for a ground breaking event.

Fowler Construction of Richland will begin the 15-month construction project immediately, said David Lippes, principal with Boost.

The developers still have one last hurdle to clear. Next week, they’re expected to close on a lending package backed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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In keeping with the pit’s tortured history, even that routine affair was briefly in jeopardy over a standoff between Congress and President Donald Trump over the border wall funding.

Friday was the deadline to approve the deal or face a partial government shutdown that could have jeopardized the signing of the HUD loan. But Monday, Congress extended funding to Dec. 21, clearing the way for Park Place to proceed.

Few are happier to see the gateway project finally take shape than Richland Mayor Bob Thompson.

“I think it’s been a great frustration for a great deal of the city for a long time,” he acknowledged. “We’re all pretty excited.”

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The pit will be replaced with Park Place, a 104-unit urban-style apartment building with four stories, underground parking and an elevator. Two retail buildings totaling 5,000 square feet will face busy George Washington Way, forming a plaza.

Park Place has a big role to play.

It will improve connections between downtown and the Columbia River and marks a big first step toward taming traffic on George Washington, a big priority for the city.

“We got here. We’re all pretty excited about the project getting completed,” the mayor said.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514