Kennewick to again go after state money for Vista Field

Kennewick officials want to get a local revitalization financing bill through to help redevelop Vista Field.
Kennewick officials want to get a local revitalization financing bill through to help redevelop Vista Field. Tri-City Herald

The Kennewick City Council will discuss its 2016 state legislative agenda at its Oct. 27 meeting, and one issue is expected to top the conversation.

The city wants to take another crack at getting a local revitalization financing bill through for the redevelopment of Vista Field. Officials credit a similar program that started in 2010 with transforming Southridge into one of the area’s more bustling neighborhoods.

Kennewick is one of 18 cities so far to receive the revitalization money. It has received $500,000 annually since 2010, and will continue to get money for the life of the 25-year bond.

City Manager Marie Mosley said while the state paid out $2.5 million on Southridge between 2010-14, it brought in more than $9 million in state sales and use taxes related to the area during that time, not including nearly $3 million that went into city coffers.

“Essentially, they don’t lose anything,” Mosley said of the state.

The Kennewick Public Hospital District, which opened Trios Southridge Hospital last year, and the Port of Kennewick also contributed money toward paying off the bond, Mosley said.

The city has used the money to build the indoor sports pavilion and streets in Southridge, including Southridge and Hildebrand boulevards, as well as connecting streets. The state money, along with local dollars, goes toward paying off $13.6 million in bonds.

The investment has worked well, with 19 businesses and 176 new jobs in Southridge, generating $7.3 million in earnings through 2014, Kennewick Finance Director Dan Legard said.

Several more businesses have opened since then, with five restaurants cutting ribbons within a recent stretch of several weeks, Mosley said. The area, not that long ago, was primarily Southridge High School and some vacant land.

“I’m not going to say that was the only reason development occurred out there, but it was a significant portion of why development occurred — because we put in the infrastructure,” Mosley said. “It’s just a testament to what a program like this can generate from an economic development perspective.”

Another funding bill

The city would like to receive similar state funding for Vista Field. The Port of Kennewick plans to redevelop the 113-acre site, which closed as an airport in 2013, with a mix of retail, housing and entertainment.

Sen. Sharon Brown, a former Kennewick councilwoman, sponsored a bill in the Senate in the 2015 session that would have allowed local governments to submit new projects for revitalization money. Fellow Republican Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla sponsored a similar bill, House Bill 1648.

Brown’s bill, Senate Bill 5109, was referred to the Ways and Means Committee but died when it was not given a public hearing. Walsh’s bill never got out of committee.

The bill had an uphill fight because it spends money, which the Legislature is short of because of the state Supreme Court directive to fully fund K-12 education, Brown said.

Brown, who is traveling in Asia as part of a trade mission, said in an email that the bill would increase the amount the state can award in contributions to $7.5 million annually for the entire program, a $5 million increase over the current amount. It would also remove the existing “first come, first served” requirement for awarding the projects.

“We also create a competition for those funds, based on local commitment, job creation and ability to complete construction,” she said. “I believe our region and local projects in our communities, like the Vista Field redevelopment, will be very competitive under this type of measurable criteria.”

Brown is working hard to educate policymakers about the need for the bill going into the 2016 legislative session, she said. She has welcomed staff members from the governor’s office and Commerce Director Brian Bonlender, showing them how Southridge benefited from the program. Several legislators have also been given tours.

“I am always eager to share the success story demonstrated by the jobs created and dollars realized to the city by the Southridge (Local Revitalization Fund),” she said.

She plans to have a hearing on the bill before the Senate Trade and Economic Development Committee next year.

“That will be a great opportunity for our local people to visit Olympia and share this success story directly with lawmakers from across the state,” Brown said.

Agencies working on plan

The city council will discuss the potential bill with Kennewick’s interim lobbyist at the upcoming meeting, trying to get a head start on the Legislature, Mosley said.

The city is working closely with the Port of Kennewick on the 113-acre Vista Field project, Mosley said. The council plans to address the master plan for the site early next year.

The city is seeking other partners on the project, talking to the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, Association of Washington Cities and Tri-City Development Council, she said.

Challenges will include connecting the Vista Field area, which is expecting a significant traffic increase, with the major surrounding streets — Columbia Center Boulevard, Clearwater Avenue, Kellogg Street and Canal Drive. The city will seek grant money to help pay for the portions of the project not covered by the state.

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