UPDATE: Richland says ‘no thanks’ to public market plan

The entry way to the city of Richland on George Washington Way.
The entry way to the city of Richland on George Washington Way. Tri-City Herald

Visions of a Pike Place-inspired market at the entrance to Richland suffered a major setback Wednesday when the city of Richland rejected a proposal to add a public market to its development plans.

In a letter Wednesday, the city informed The Crown Group and Richland businessman Adam Brault it wants to proceed with its original vision of a retail, office and residential project at 650 George Washington Way. The city-owned spot is better known as “the pit” at the city’s entrance.

The city noted that Crown Group, based in Hoffman Estates, Ill., secured a development agreement with the city a year ago on a proposal that did not include a public market.

“Although intrigued by the project concept, Richland City Council will stay the course on the original development proposal,” it said.

Brault said he was surprised by the unexpected letter and faulted the city for misunderstanding the market proposal. Specifically, the city said the market supporters asked the city to fund $16 million to build the public market, a parking structure and an outdoor plaza.

Brault said that’s not true.

Market advocates asked the city to endorse the proposal and contribute $60,000 to develop a business plan. The $16 million development cost would be supported through a private fund-raising campaign. City officials weren’t available to elaborate on the issue.

Brault said the Tri-Cities Public Market Board will formulate a response when it meets Friday.

Online, reaction was instant and negative.

“Why can’t we have nice things? City of Richland, you blew it. Again,” Reese Femreite wrote in a Facebook post response to the news.

Crown and Brault want to alter the 2015 development agreement to add a public market catering to flower shops, produce vendors, growler fillers and other small businesses.

The plan won wide public support on social media. Fans regularly packed city council meetings through the winter in a show of support for installing something different at the city’s entrance.

In its letter to Brault and Crown Group, the city said no city council member asked to reconsider the existing contract, effectively killing the debate.

It said deviating from the contract could expose it to liability.

“Council’s intent to stay the course under the current Purchase & Sale Agreement is based in part on a healthy respect for what is and what is not allowed under the law,” it wrote.

The letter also noted that a consultant helping develop a vision for its downtown and waterfront feels that the existing agreement is the best use for the property.

Consultant Roger Brooks has proposed a lively mix of commercial and other ventures along the waterfront, including retail development at the Columbia Point marina and condominiums and restaurants at city-owned spots along the river.

“Mr. Brooks advised the council that the highest and best use for 650 George Washington Way is consistent with the development plan that was originally proposed by the Crown Group,” it said.

While the market plan excited supporters, its staunchest advocates acknowledged that parking could present a challenge.

The market anchored plan includes an underground parking garage and the Crown Group said there are opportunities to expand on surface parking in the neighborhood.

Still, neighboring businesses worried that a market topped by office space and hundreds of apartments would compound parking situation that becomes critical when nearby Howard Amon Park is busy.

TVA Architects, a Portland firm, developed preliminary sketches for the project that show an L-shaped building facing a plaza oriented to George Washington.

The market would occupy 30,000 square feet of street-level retail space over an underground parking garage. Upper floors would be occupied by 25,000 square feet of office space and up to 100 market-rate apartments.

Conventional commercial financing would support the $15 million cost to develop the commercial elements.

The existing agreement with the city expires June 25, 2016. Last week, Brault and Crown Group asked for a second 120-day extension to start the project.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

Related stories from Tri-City Herald