Vista Field looking less like an airfield, more like future neighborhood

The stage is almost set at Kennewick’s Vista Field for builders to install residential and commercial structures.

Total Site Services is close to wrapping up construction of roads, utilities, a water feature and decorative streetlamps at the former municipal airfield in central Kennewick, east of Columbia Center.

The Richland contractor was able to complete the $4.9 million job after the Port of Kennewick, which owns the project, classified the work as “essential” under Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, which restricts nonessential activity to curtail the spread of coronavirus.

The order initially treated residential construction as nonessential, though government-led projects could go ahead.

Total Site Services asked for guidance and the port concluded work could go ahead.

A state electrical inspector concurred with its decision, said Tim Arntzen, executive director.

Arntzen said Total Site Services was about 95 percent through the project when the crisis hit. It didn’t make sense to demobilize then return later to wrap up the balance of the work.

Coronavirus may not have stopped the project, but it slowed it a bit.

Total Site Services of Richland is wrapping up a $4.9 million project to prepare the former Vista Field in Kennewick for mixed-use development. There are 62, 16-foot blue light poles. (Courtesy city of Richland)

The contractor installed 62, 16-foot decorative blue streetlamps to light the future neighborhood. They remained dark in mid-April.

The Benton Public Utility District was running with a skeletal staff and hadn’t set the transformer needed to energize the system by April 14, when the port’s commissioners got an update on the status of their signature economic development effort.

A linear water feature will be the defining feature of the future Vista neighborhood. It’s ready for water, save for a pump, said Larry Peterson, director of planning and development.

Peterson expects a two-week delay in securing the electrical cabinet to support a tree-lighting system. The manufacturer had to shut down after a worker tested positive for COVID-19, he said.

Total Site Services won the four-part contract to turn the closed runway into developable land in early 2019 and broke ground a few months later.

Its work readies the first phase for eventual sale to private developers willing to build the residential, retail, office and commercial structures the port wants.

It is unclear if the original timeline will hold after the coronavirus pandemic and stop-work orders blew through the economy. The port expected private construction to start in 2021.

The arts theme took a hit this spring when plans for an 800-seat performing arts center and creative space fell through. The nonprofit Arts Center Task Force relinquished its hold on 2.2 acres at the heart of Vista Field, saying it would pursue a location in Richland on the hope of securing taxpayer financing there.

The Port of Kennewick shut down the airfield when it painted big white “X’s across the runway on Dec. 31, 2013. The cost to run the airport doomed it. Vista Field was not eligible for the Federal Aviation Administration grants and loans that support airports in Pasco, Richland and Prosser.

Development will happen in eight phases totaling 750,000 square feet of retail, office and entertainment spaces and 1,100 single-family homes, condominiums and apartments.

The port expects more than $450 million in private sector investment.

Follow the Vista Field project at portofkennewick.org/projects/vista-field.

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