City of Kennewick: Tax dollars keep hammers swinging

Government-funded projects are keeping construction workers busy in Kennewick despite the recession.

Multiple commercial and residential projects are underway in every area of the city, and the largest are funded by the city, Benton County, Kennewick School District and Port of Kennewick, said Evelyn Lusignan, the city of Kennewick’s spokeswoman.

“Development activity is down from the previous year but we’re still busy. Our office is closed to the public, but our staff is still processing new inquiries,” she said.

Kennewick, the state’s 14th largest city, grew to 84,960 residents in 2020, or 1.5% from 2019-20.

A large portion of the city’s $403 million biennial budget comes from sales taxes. Lusignan said that’s why the city is worried about the effects from the state-mandated shutdown in March 2020 to curb the spread of coronavirus — but only a little.

“I don’t want to paint a picture of not having vulnerability,” she said. “There’s always a delay so the numbers for some of the hardest-hit months we haven’t received yet. … What helped us for 2020 is we had a strong first quarter. Before Covid hit, our businesses were doing very well. What makes us optimistic in the future is we did have strong businesses in place and we can recover quickly.”

The city has reserves but has not used them. Sales tax receipts through July 2020 were down 0.6% from the previous year — but up from 2017-18, she said.

Permits for single-family homes through August totaled 193 (valued at $57.5 million), while the city processed 316 during all of 2019 (valued at $100 million). Permits for new commercial construction were already at 49 as of August versus 79 for the entire year before. And while those 79 projects were valued at $74 million, the 49 processed as of August were already valued at about $80 million.

As quarantine restrictions eased, some of the city’s newest and largest retail centers reopened and welcomed back customers.

The remodel of the movie theater in the Columbia Center mall into Dick’s Sporting Goods is complete.

At Home opened in the former Shopko building next to Ranch & Home on Columbia Center Boulevard. To the south, the new Goodwill Industries store is welcoming donations and customers.

Ongoing construction projects include the renovation of the Kennewick High School campus, development of Vista Field by the Port of Kennewick, and the continuing development of Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village on Columbia Drive, a joint project between the city and the port.

The city completed the streets in Columbia Gardens. The port welcomed two wineries as tenants of the buildings shortly before the pandemic, Lusignan said.

Demand for housing

Demand for housing prompted several residential projects in south Kennewick, Lusignan said.

Terra Vista Heights south of Ridgeline Drive has 18 lots platted.

Southridge Estates, west of Southridge High School, has 76 lots platted with 193 in remaining phases. Apple Valley off the Bob Olson Parkway has 156 lots platted with 150 in remaining phases.

Southcliffe has 53 lots platted with 231 remaining on the ridgeline of Thompson Hill north of Bob Olson Parkway. The Village at Southridge has 65 lots platted with 87 remaining near Ridgeline Drive and Sherman Street.

To accommodate growing neighborhoods, the Kennewick School District rebuilt Amistad Elementary and expanded the Tri-Tech Skills Center this year.

It also is completing a $21 million expansion of Southridge High School, adding new classrooms and improving athletic facilities.

Kamiakin High School is getting a new classroom building valued at $14 million on the northeast portion of campus along with athletic facility upgrades.

The new Kennewick High School will be nearly 300,000 square feet. The entire KHS project is estimated to cost
$87 million. All three high school projects are expected to be done in time for the first day of school in 2021.

“When all of the high school projects are complete in the fall of 2021, they will each accommodate up to 2,000 students and provide improved athletic facilities at all sites,” said Robyn Chastain, executive director of communications and public relations for the district.

Other big projects

Benton County is building a $10 million administrative building on its existing campus south of Canal Drive.

The three-story office building will be nearly 41,500 square feet, allowing county administrators to consolidate similar offices into two buildings, the new one and the criminal justice facility. The treasurer, auditor and assessor offices will move into the new building, along with the commissioners’ various departments. For land development, this creates a one-stop shop, said Matt Rasmussen, Benton County deputy administrator.

“It will be one place to go instead of driving all over town,” he said.

That will move non-criminal/justice functions out of the existing justice building, opening space to move the juvenile justice programs. It has the added bonus of not forcing visitors to the other departments through the security checkpoints, Rasmussen said.

The Covid-19 shutdown pushed the estimated opening date to May or June. The smoky skies and hazardous air in September 2020 delayed work again, Rasmussen said.

Miramar Health Center, 6351 W. Rio Grande Ave., Kennewick. (Photo by Scott Butner Photography)

Yakima Valley Farm Workers is building Miramar Health Center, a 29,000-square-foot medical and dental clinic, on West Rio Grande Avenue across from Lawrence Scott Park. The nonprofit will provide health services to patients of all income levels. The contractor broke ground in January 2020. It expects to see the $15.2 million project completed in early 2021.

To the south, the city is replacing an aging 10 million-gallon water tank near 18th and Kellogg streets, a project in the works since 2018. The multiyear project includes a new 6 million gallon tank and water main,  Lusignan said.

The plan to expand the Toyota Center and Three Rivers Convention Center complex is ongoing, she said.

The city agreed to expand the convention center and build a Broadway-style theater if developer A-1 Pearl, led by Vijay Patel, built a seven-story hotel with accompanying commercial space on adjacent land. Both sides still are seeking funding for their projects and are in the “due diligence” period, so no shovels will break ground in the immediate future.

Another dream still in the planning phases is an interchange at Ridgeline Drive and Highway 395. The city of Kennewick pledged money for the construction in 2018 and state is covering $15 million of the $22 million needed from the 2015 transportation package.

“It’s a big project on the horizon but we haven’t broken ground yet,” Lusignan said.

The interchange will give south Kennewick residents better access to major arterials and is expected to prompt even more development along Ridgeline Drive.

“It’s very difficult for people to get in and out. It’s prime real estate there. It will really develop when we can get that interchange in… there’s a lot of interest,” she said.

Other significant commercial projects include a new gym at 5102 W. Okanogan Place, a complete remodel of Sephora on Columbia Center Boulevard and a new Sana Behavioral Hospital at 7319 W. Hood Place.

According to Lusignan, one of the most exciting aspects of all the government construction is how interspersed it is.

“We’re really looking at all areas of our community for growth — development is not just isolated at Southridge, or Vista Field, or downtown Kennewick. Our approach is looking at growth and development in all areas of Kennewick,” she said.

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