There soon could be a lot of police activity at the Tri-City Raceway. Here’s why

Fifteen years after the engines have gone quiet at the Tri-City Raceway, West Richland thinks it’s the perfect spot for its new police station.

But it’s running into a road block with the Port of Kennewick, which has owned the dormant track for 11 years.

The port is willing to negotiate a possible deal, but it is concerned that selling to West Richland will be a significant departure from its own plans for the land.

The city wants to build a police station, sports fields and use the rest of the land to attract commercial development. The 92 acres are off Highway 224 near Keene Road.

The port sees the raceway much the way it views its controversial Belmont property, where the city is an anchor tenant with hopes of inspiring commercial development.

At the race track, the police station would be the anchor to stimulate nearby private business development on the west side of the city.

Port officials also want industrial development there but their longtime vision has been to use the raceway property to support the winery industry on nearby Red Mountain.

The city has offered $1.25 million for the land.

Instead of paying cash, it would surrender its share of Benton County’s Rural Capital County Funds. That would require additional approval from the Benton County commissioners.

The rural capital fund is fueled by a sales tax rebate of 0.09 percent given to counties to pay for economic development.

Benton County receives about $300,000 a month and shares it with the five cities and two ports.

New police station

West Richland leaders are determined to have the site.

Voters approved a $12.5 million bond request in April for a new police station, and the city is under a tight timeline to nail down a location for it.

Police Chief Ben Majetich stands in the lobby at the West Richland Police Department. The city wants to build its new police station at the former Tri-City Raceway, off Highway 224 near Keene Road. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

The city must secure the site and finalize bond documents by mid-December in order to begin collecting property taxes in 2020.

Bronson Brown, West Richland’s attorney, told the port’s commissioners on Tuesday that the raceway is ideal for the police station.

And Jessica Platt, West Richland’s finance director, also said the open acres are an opportunity for West Richland to expand beyond its residential base by having another area available for business development.

“Typically even Connell collects more retail sales tax per capita than West Richland,” she said.

The city expects to have $630,000 in its rural capital account that could be immediately available to the port.

Tim Arntzen, the port’s chief executive, told his commissioners the money could be used to support redevelopment of the airplane hangars at Vista Field, the port’s 103-acre mixed-use redevelopment project near Columbia Center in Kennewick.

Port commission concerns

The deal proposed by West Richland is unusual. It is offering little cash beyond $25,000 for the port’s art fund and $20,000 in legal fees, plus its share of closing costs.

Commissioners Tom Moak and Skip Novakovich said they’re comfortable making that sort of deal with a fellow public agency — with conditions.

Novakovich added that the port doesn’t have the time nor the money to take on developing the raceway.

But Commissioner Don Barnes said the proposed terms are risky and the city isn’t offering enough for the land.

The port paid $1.75 million for the raceway in 2008. And then it spent about $125,000 on a master plan and $75,000 to work out a water issue with the Kennewick Irrigation District.

“It is not currently in our comprehensive scheme to sell that land,” he said. “I can’t see the benefit to the port.”

The Tri-City Raceway hosts a concert in 1981. Tri-City Herald file

West Richland officials have said they are willing to allow the port to retain the water rights in order to keep the price down. The value of those rights is unclear but an appraisal of the land is due in October.

The raceway is within West Richland’s urban growth boundary and was incorporated into the city in 2015.

The raceway closed after events were severely curtailed in 2004.

The commission will review a draft of the deal at its next meeting, Sept. 24.

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.