City hopes new police station will anchor future growth

Port of Kennewick sells former raceway to city, which has big plans to develop it

West Richland is close to completing its purchase of the Tri-City Raceway, paving the way for a new police station and a chance to woo future tenants to the property on the west end of town.

City officials say moving the police station will spur economic development on the nearly 100 acres of land off Highway 224.

“I’m using the same philosophy at the race track site that we used at the Belmont Business District,” said Mayor Brent Gerry. “When we purchased the lot, this was just dirt, no utilities, no infrastructure, no nothing. By us moving out here and becoming the anchor tenant for the Belmont Business District, we attracted the Richland School District for a middle school, an administration building, and we have sold three of the commercial properties for commercial development that are on timelines to produce the product of commercial development.”

The city agreed to pay $1.8 million for the raceway property, with $500,000 in cash at closing and the remaining $1.3 million through a transfer of rural county capital funds.

The amount came from Benton County’s assessed value of the property, which was far less than the port’s recent $3 million appraisal of the property, and slightly more than the original purchase price of $1.7 million in 2008.

“At this time, the Port of Kennewick doesn’t have the time or the money to go forward with any kind of investment in this property. The city of West Richland does and it will create jobs and put businesses on the tax roll, which is desperately needed in West Richland,” said Skip Novakovich, port commissioner, during public discussions about the sale.

West Richland officials said the assessed value was more accurate than the appraisal due to a lack of comparable properties in the market.

Additionally, West Richland will reimburse the port for up to $20,000 of port staff time and legal costs related to the transaction and an additional 2 percent of the purchase price, per the port’s public art policy, at closing.

The two entities will split the closing costs 50-50. The purchase price includes 18 acre-feet of water rights, while the port will retain remaining water rights, which commissioners believe to be valued in excess of $500,000.

New police station

While West Richland Police Chief Ben Majetich acknowledges most residents would prefer the police station remain near its current spot at 3805 Van Giesen St., he said the department has outgrown the building and the city’s growth is centered to the west end of town.

“Where the actual department is located is not a big deal,” Majetich said. “We’re based out of patrol cars, so our presence will still be in the city.”

Gerry added, “Some people ask, ‘Is it too far out?’ Well, look at where it was before. It was on the east end of town and now it’s on the west end of town. But the difference is, from the access point of that police station, you’re going to have Keene Road, which is an east-west main, Van Giesen east-west, Paradise, which is going to be another east-west in the residential district, and Belmont. So you’ve got four roads that are a very short distance from the police facility for them to access.”

The current police station is about 3,000 square feet, with the new one expected to be about 22,000 square feet with more space for daily operations, a larger evidence room, training space that could double as a community meeting room and climate-controlled kennels for animal control, among other additions and improvements.

It wasn’t possible to build a new facility that size on the current property, so West Richland scouted a location on Bombing Range Road near Paradise Way and Keene Road.

But after an outcry from nearby residents concerned about the possibility of more crime, noise and lower property values by placing a police station at that spot, Majetich said the city dropped its effort to build there.

“It was likely that no matter where we’d go in town, we’d face resistance,” Majetich said. Available land was in short supply because Gerry said only three property owners in the city limits have land of at least five acres or more, which was the minimum needed for the station. This led to the city eyeing the 92-acre former raceway as a potential site.

Voters passed a bond to build the station in the spring, agreeing to an annual tax of about $42 per $100,000 assessed property value. It’s expected to raise $12.5 million. The station should be sufficient for the city’s needs for the next 50 years, officials said.

Future development

The police department will take up a small percentage of the available land at the racetrack site, leaving more than 85 acres for future development.

The raceway has been closed since 2004, though it once had been a popular Tri-Cities landmark.

“The interest at the race track property is incredible. Large entities have already expressed an interest in going there. I wish we had more space because we’re going to need it,” Majetich said. The mayor said he already has a “couple birds in hand” for the property as well. The city is going through its 45-day due diligence to confirm the property is as represented before it closes on the purchase, and then the sky’s the limit.

“With the city retaining the rights of the port’s master plan for the property, we can certainly retain that vision to the development of the property,” Gerry said. “A lot of that is going to be driven by the wine industry.”

Gerry said the city’s ability to treat wine waste will be an attractive incentive.

Gerry said jobs that have workers on the clock during daylight hours are key to additional future economic development. He believes this drives retail sales tax opportunities currently leaving the city each day.

“We have 80 percent leakage of the sales tax. It is important to provide properties that the city can take advantage of,” he said.

Gerry also is bolstered by plans for a new housing development in the city, The Heights at Red Mountain Ranch that’s expected to break ground on 100 homes this fall and result in nearly 600 homes when it’s built out.

Over the past three years, West Richland averaged about 82 new single-family homes each year. “Rooftops, daytime car count and daytime jobs are going to be the economic driver for this community,” said the mayor.

Old city complex

Only the West Richland branch of the Mid-Columbia Libraries is expected to remain as a tenant at the old city government campus on Van Giesen Street once the police station is built.

The former public works facility has already been sold and Gerry said there are other offers for the vacant buildings and the police station, requiring city council to review the purchase and sale agreements.

“It looks like very soon we’ll have those sold,” he said.

At least one of the properties has been bought by a developer, who also bought nearby property from a private land owner with larger plans for the site.

The city had gone under contract with the former City Hall facility, but a tenant didn’t materialize so it was placed back on the market.

“We don’t sell property just to sell property,” Gerry said. “There’s a timeline once the property is sold that the commercial business has to take the permit out and construct a facility and if they do not meet that criteria, we have the ability to purchase the property back at the same price.”

Gerry considers this a smart business practice and expects similar success at the racetrack site to capitalize on the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area and market to the wine industry, especially since the land has been undeveloped for so long.

 “We have property that’s desirable for commercial and it looks like it’s going to happen,” Gerry said. “It’s an opportunity to better our community. The buzz is out there. Stay tuned. There’s more to come.”

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