Investment in Southridge right move for Kennewick

Kennewick Mayor Steve Young recently described Southridge as the future of Kennewick.

We agree.

Exciting new developments are planned for the area, and south Kennewick's ever-expanding population can support far more activities and services than those already on the drawing board.

Kennewick voters signaled their desire for tighter purse strings during the last election, so it's no surprise to see some new council members questioning plans to invest in the infrastructure at Southridge.

But in this case, an overabundance of caution threatens to stall progress. If you build it, they will come -- that's more than a memorable line from Field of Dreams.

It's a concept that's worked well for the port districts in the Mid-Columbia. Take a look at Prosser Vintners Village if you doubt the strategy. The Port of Benton took a $1.3 million leap of faith in support of the wine industry -- buying property and improving roads and infrastructure.

Vintners Village is now a 32-acre jewel of wine tourism, with the port asking parties interested in development there to join the waiting list. (Did you catch that? It's so popular there is a waiting list.)

That's one of the more successful examples, but thoughtful investments in infrastructure frequently pay off by fueling economic development.

Yes, the price tag at Southridge may give some of the new city council members who ran on a platform of fiscal conservatism reason to pause. But their mandate is against foolish spending, not wise investments.

Kennewick plans to sell $13.6 million in general obligation bonds to pay for road and utility improvements at Southridge. The council will have to approve this action soon, since plans call for the bonds to go on sale next month.

The pile of state money that's available to help finance improvements at Southridge ought to make this an easy decision.

Kennewick was one of five cities in Washington selected for the state's Local Revitalization Financing Program, which would bring about $12.5 million to the city over 25 years to help pay off the bonds.

On top of that, the city has support from the Port of Kennewick, Benton County andthe Kennewick Public Hospital District. Those entities willuse their share of propertyand sales tax revenues from the development of Southridge to help pay for the improvements.

All the city needs to do to receive the state money is generate $500,000 in new tax revenue from development at Southridge.

That should be easy. Kennewick General Hospital alone is expected to build a $90 million facility there, resulting in about $5.5 million in sales taxes from the cost of materials over two years of construction.

City staff expects other developers -- and the associated tax revenue -- to follow suit. About 60 percent of the city's growth is predicted to be at Southridge in the years ahead.

No investment is without risk, but we can't see why the city council should hesitate to support these needed improvements at Southridge.

The return on the $13.6 million investment will be enormous, with staff estimating $140 million in construction by 2020.

If the city fails to make the improvements, it's likely to derail economic opportunities at Southridge. Cold feet by the council could even stymie plans for the hospital as well as a new water park.

Kennewick council members are right to be careful with the public's money, but leadership requires vision as well as responsible stewardship.

The numbers show a ten-fold return on the investment at Southridge. So, yes, build it and they will come.