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Port of Kennewick plans to sell excess Southridge land to pay for Vista Field upgrades

The Port of Kennewick hopes to raise $4.1 million by selling land it now owns to allow it to develop Vista Field. The money will go toward streets in the development, including some built on the former runway and taxiway, as well as a three-acre public plaza.
The Port of Kennewick hopes to raise $4.1 million by selling land it now owns to allow it to develop Vista Field. The money will go toward streets in the development, including some built on the former runway and taxiway, as well as a three-acre public plaza. Tri-City Herald file

The Port of Kennewick plans to sell land it now owns in Kennewick to allow it to develop Vista Field.

The port hopes to raise $4.1 million by selling 8.5 acres it owns in the Southridge area, along with 9.9 acres it bought from Verizon near Vista Field.

Officials said money from the sales, plus $900,000 set aside for Vista Field for use in 2018, should pay for the $4.5 million in improvements for the 37-acre phase one of the redevelopment of the former Kennewick airport.

The money will go toward streets in the development, including some built on Vista Field’s former runway and taxiway, as well as a three-acre public plaza. A 750-foot-long stream will lead to the park. Larry Peterson, port planning and development director, said the waterway will be lined with restaurants, comparing it to San Antonio’s River Walk.

The infrastructure will pave the way for the 800-seat Vista Arts Center, which is planned to take up four acres of the first phase, Peterson said.

Commissioners gave preliminary approval to the planning strategy at their Tuesday meeting.

The port considered other ways of paying for the infrastructure, including an industrial development district, where the port collects taxes for improvements from residents of part of the district. But finance director Tammy Fine found that port commissioners in districts that implemented such a tax tended to be voted out in their next election.

Commissioner Tom Moak said that, while he supports the land-sale plan, he would be willing to consider an industrial development district if it were needed for the Vista Field development.

“I’m willing to risk my job on the commission to look at that for the right project at the right time,” he said.

The port could also ask other area governments, such as Kennewick, the school district and Benton County, to help pay for Vista Field improvements, Fine said.

“I believe every single local government should kick in, because it’s going to impact them,” she said.

But the port should have no trouble selling the land to finance the sale, officials said. Executive Director Tim Arntzen said he had already heard from interested parties.

The first phase of Vista Field will also include homes built in with the shops and restaurants. The port, which will serve as its own master developer on the project, is also considering whether to include affordable housing in the development, which is planned to eventually reach 100 acres.

Port commissioners decided to have staff further research the idea and make a goal of including affordable housing.

“I think you ought to try to make Vista Field as diverse as possible,” Ed Frost of Kennewick told commissioners. “Frankly, I don’t want you to develop this thing so it looks like Columbia Point.”

Commission President Don Barnes said there might be affordable homes already built that will be within walking distance of the project.

Affordable housing could set Vista Field apart as a marquee development if it is done right, Arntzen said.

Arntzen is also shifting the duties of some of his staff, since he has to spend more time working on the Vista Field development. He said potential developers at the site will want to speak with the chief executive.

Tana Bader Inglima, the port’s director of governmental relations and marketing, will now serve as assistant executive director. She will take on some of Arntzen’s duties, including working with staff members on budgeting, performance reviews and drafting agendas for meetings.

The port will also contract for writing assistance on its newsletter and grants, which Bader Inglima had previously headed. It will also contract for a “town architect” to assist with planning, development and construction management at Vista Field.

The port will contract with Fine, who is retiring at the end of the year, to help train her replacement as chief financial officer and provide assistance with other audits and oversight. To help pay for the adjustments, the port is not filling the position of a mid-level accounting assistant who left in 2014.

“I think it makes my team stronger and it doesn’t cost one extra penny to implement,” Arntzen said of the changes.

Commissioners told Arntzen it will be important to make sure the port can handle the responsibility of leading the redevelopment of the small airport, which closed at the end of 2013.

“I think it’s something we will continue to monitor and reassess,” Barnes said. “If we find we are over our heads or we find that staff is over-committed, then I think we can reevaluate and change, as needed.”

Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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