Port of Kennewick aims for Vista Field construction start in 2017

The Vista Field area along West Canal Drive in Kennewick.
The Vista Field area along West Canal Drive in Kennewick. Tri-City Herald

Two years after the final plane called on Kennewick’s Vista Field, the old airstrip has a tentative date with bulldozers.

The Port of Kennewick wants to break ground on the first phase of infrastructure and road development by March 2017.

To meet that deadline, the port and the city of Kennewick will spend much of 2016 plowing through procedural minutiae meant to turn the public’s vision of a lively urban center into reality at the 113-acre former airfield in the heart of the Tri-Cities.

Port executives outlined an exhaustive to-do list for the port commission at its first meeting of 2016.

Tim Arntzen, chief executive officer, acknowledged the port wanted to solicit bids in 2015. Large projects are like wine, he said. They need to lay down a bit to produce the best results.

The port submitted its traffic impact study to the city of Kennewick. It’s a dry but critical topic that will get an airing when the city council meets Feb. 9.

In March, the council gets a detailed look at the port’s master plan for creating a mixed-use development uniting commercial, residential and civic spaces.

The port is working with a key player, the Arts Foundation of the Mid-Columbia, which wants to transform an old aircraft hangar into a modern performance and arts center.

The group is working with the port on a letter of intent. Details are sketchy. Arntzen said that the port expects to transfer the site at a low cost on the expectation the $18 million center will drive additional development.

The foundation needs an identified site before it can begin fundraising, he said.

A plan for roads and other infrastructure should be ready by June, said Larry Peterson, director of planning and development.

By December, contractors would be able to bid on the $3 million infrastructure work, with ground-breaking tentatively slated for the following March.

One key topic for 2016: How will the port pay for the $3 million it will cost to install roads, water, sewer and other infrastructure? That’s down from the original estimate of $5 million.

Deferring construction of a park and other public amenities to the future cut about $2 million off the estimate.

Still, the taxpayer-supported port will have to find the $3 million somewhere. The port carries no debt. Its options include selling surplus land, finding other in-house sources, taking out a bridge loan or some combination.

The port formally closed Vista Field at the end of 2013. A few days later, it painted giant Xs across the runway, shortly after its last visitor executed a touch-and-go landing.