Vista Field redevelopment plan lands critical support

Tri-City Herald file

The Port of Kennewick can’t redevelop Vista Field’s 113 lonely acres into an urbane city center fast enough as far as the Kennewick City Council is concerned.

The port unveiled its transportation plan for the former airfield to the city Tuesday. The 320-page document outlines in exhaustive detail how streets will be laid out at the former airfield and how it will connect to Kennewick’s existing street grid.

It took five years to create a plan, but the city council took far less time. After listening intently to a 90-minute presentation, it called the vision of a densely developed center where people can live, work, learn and recreate a game changer for Kennewick. While it made no decision Tuesday, council members indicate they’re eager to sign off on the master plan, which will be submitted in about 60 days.

“You hit the nail on the head,” said Mayor Steve Young, who said he’d be happy to see Vista Field take shape overnight. Colleagues agreed.

“This is only going to get better as we fine tune it,” Councilman Paul Parish said.

Vista Field permanently closed after welcoming its last plane at the end of 2013. By then, the port had spent two years contemplating what would be worthy of the airfield’s place near the geographic center of the Tri-Cities.

A series of community meetings and charrettes signaled that the community wanted a place where people, not cars, reign. Walkability and slow traffic became the central goals.

Larry Peterson, the port’s director of planning and development, said the community vision is consistent with good road design in terms of traffic flow and emergency vehicle access.

“The charrette ideas actually work,” he said.

The plan will replace Vista Field’s one-mile runway with 1,200 residences, 311,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 500,000 square feet of office space and about 200,000 square feet of miscellaneous industrial and other space. Sidewalks, parks and civic amenities, including a privately financed performing arts center on a central plaza, round out the ambitious plan.

When fully developed, Vista Field could add more than $400 million to Kennewick’s tax base.

The Port of Kennewick is negotiating with the Arts Center Task Force for a 1-acre site at the heart of Vista Field. The foundation wants to construct its 800-seat performing arts center in possibly as few as three years. That project is separate from another entertainment-oriented venue headed to voters in August.

The Kennewick Public Facilities District plans to ask voters to approve a two-tenths of a percent increase in the sales tax to build The Link, an addition to the Three Rivers Convention Center that would house, among other things, a 2,300-seat Broadway-style theater.

The port is not seeking additional money to develop Vista Field at present.

Though Vista Field is meant to be a pedestrian-oriented city center, the transportation plan doesn’t ignore passenger vehicles.

Parking is offered on all streets, and open spaces concealed behind buildings will become parking lots.

“It is well parked,” said John Perlic, a traffic consultant with Parametrix, which is working with the port, city and DPZ Partners to create the vision for Vista Field.

Cyclists might be disappointed. The main street does not include a bike lane.

Laurence Qamar of DPZ Partners, an urban design consultant, said bike lanes would widen the streets and potentially speed up traffic. Bicyclists can safely mingle with slow-moving motor vehicles, he said.

The transportation team studied 28 intersections in the greater Vista Field area and mapped out how the increased traffic will play out. The plan includes four major intersection updates in the first years after development begins.

The intersection at Columbia Center Boulevard and Grandridge Avenue would get a second left turn lane from Grandridge onto southbound Columbia Center, at a cost of about $400,000.

Drivers on Colorado Street would no longer be able to turn left onto Grandridge in either direction, at a cost of about $35,000.

The intersection at Columbia Center Boulevard and Deschutes Avenue would get a second westbound turn lane at a cost of $580,000.

The interesection at Edison Street and Canal Drive would get a second eastbound turn lane and a southbound right turn lane at a cost of about $735,000.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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