Redefining Kennewick’s downtown areas

A return to small towns and reconnecting to the waterfront is the idea behind the Port of Kennewick and city of Kennewick’s joint project to develop vacant riverfront property.

The goal is to cultivate “new energy, vitality, business and jobs and provide a gathering place for people,” said Kennewick Mayor Steve Young. “It’s a major movement nationwide — people want to go back to small towns,” he said.

The Clover Island revitalization project and the Columbia Gardens Urban Wine and Artisan Village are part of a larger “bridge-to-bridge” initiative to reclaim the river’s shoreline.

“We want to reconnect citizens to the waterfront,” said Skip Novakovich, Port of Kennewick commissioner. “Our focus is on attracting young professionals to the area. We want our youth to come back to the area with their families.”

Young said downtown Kennewick will gain renewed focus with the development of new cultural resources and businesses. Columbia Gardens, on the east end of Columbia Drive, will create a link between the riverfront and historic downtown area to stimulate urban renewal.

“We aim to create a destination front that is family-friendly and economically viable for businesses to thrive,” Novakovich said.

The wineries setting up shop in the Port of Kennewick’s new Columbia Gardens Urban Wine and Artisan Village on Columbia Drive will face Duffy’s Pond and the walking trail. (Photo: Port of Kennewick)

The wineries setting up shop in the Port of Kennewick’s new Columbia Gardens Urban Wine and Artisan Village on Columbia Drive will face Duffy’s Pond and the walking trail. (Photo: Port of Kennewick)

The city and port cite the success of Clover Island’s revitalization for setting the stage for larger-scale projects such as Columbia Gardens, and, in 2018, the groundbreaking of the Vista Field redevelopment.

The vision for Clover Island is to create an “urban waterfront destination for the region,” Novakovich said.

The 14-acre island was overhauled to provide more public recreation areas, accessible via pathways punctuated with sculptures, fine dining options and points of interest, such as the lighthouse and adjoining plaza.

Further shoreline improvements are being explored and additional lots zoned for commercial mixed-use remain open for development.

Across newly reclaimed Duffy’s Pond, Phase I of Columbia Gardens is slated to open this fall, with Seattle-based Bartholomew Wineries and Monarcha Winery of Walla Walla, as two confirmed tenants.

The two boutique wineries will tap into the city-owned and monitored effluent pretreatment facility to neutralize highly acidic winemaking waste before it travels to the city’s main waste treatment plant.

Such a system, even just a small-scale one, can be cost-prohibitive for smaller winemakers. This is one reason wineries aren’t found in city limits, city officials said.

Young said this is a key example of how cities and ports can work together.

“It’s not the city’s place to play in economic development,” he said. “The city helps those interested in doing so, which is the port’s role.”

Novakovich said the port brought its plans for the Columbia Drive properties to the table, and the city contributed its expertise in establishing infrastructure to support the vision.

“Where cities and ports fail, is where they make the mistake of becoming competitive with one another and try to do what the other excels at,” Young said.

Novakovich said jurisdictional and private sector partnerships are integral to the success of port projects.

The second phase of Columbia Gardens, which includes a food truck plaza and infrastructure to support the preparation of land parcels to be made available to the private sector, is already underway.

The Willows site, just west of the new wineries, is soon to follow and where Columbia Basin College’s future $10 million, 20,000-square-foot culinary institute will be located.

In addition to three kitchens, the two-story complex will feature a retail bakery, student-operated restaurant and an event center.

More than half of the city’s $2.1 million in Rural County Capital Funds, a sales tax-generated economic development resource, are being used to complete the second phase of the project, and the remaining balance will be applied toward The Willows mixed-use development.

The port also owns the nearby Cable Greens, which is earmarked for future improvement.

Port officials say the full build-out of Columbia Gardens could take 10 to 20 years.

 

Vista Field redevelopment

On a similar project timeline is the 103-acre Vista Field redevelopment, which officials say has benefited greatly from the experience the city and port gained from designing Columbia Gardens and Clover Island.

The master plan for Vista Field, prepared by Duany Plater-Zyberk and Co., a Miami-based consulting firm, will be presented to the Kennewick City Council and port commission in coming months.

“At the pace we’re going, I feel confident that it will be presented by the end of the year,” Novakovich said.

A mid-2018 groundbreaking on the first phase also is foreseeable, he said.

The 20-acre development would feature public spaces, amenities, shops, a designated area for a performing arts center and a road. Shovel-ready lots will be made available for developers, if their projects align with the public’s vision for Vista Field.

“It’s our job to safeguard the community vision,” Novakovich said.

Both entities remain committed to their pay-as-you-go, phased development approach. This eliminates the need to raise taxes, since revenues from land sales and businesses that open shop there would go directly into the development of the next phase and so on.

“And one thing experience has taught us is, once buildings start coming out of the ground, it can’t be stopped—people want to see more. It’s an exciting time,” Young said.

The city continues to seek grants to move the project forward, such as local revitalization funding through the state, which was used in the past to develop Kennewick’s Southridge area.

“At full build-out, half-a-billion dollars in private sector investment will have been made; $400 million will be added onto the tax rolls for schools and city services; and 3,200 jobs will be created,” Novakovich said.

“It’s going to be the gem of the city — the new downtown,” Young said.

Young said that at one of his monthly luncheons with other Tri-City mayors, a guest asked where the real downtown is among the four cities.

After a moment of deliberation, they responded, “We haven’t built it yet.”

“Vista Field will be the place people go,” Young said.

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