Port of Kennewick: They’ve built it, now they’re ready for them to come
Kennewick’s Clover Island. | Courtesy Kim Fetrow Photography/Port of The dust seems to have settled at Port of Kennewick developments — for the moment.
Construction of infrastructure and landscaping wrapped up for phase one of Vista Field and two additional wineries and five food trucks have moved in at Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village.
“We’ve built a lot of infrastructure, now we need to maintain it,” said Tim Arntzen, chief executive officer at the port, which represents some 150,000 people throughout Benton County.
Arntzen said the port is shifting gears to encourage economic development through the sale of shovel-ready plots. It is promoting revitalized areas to attract private investment.
“We don’t plan to do all of the development, we want to do enough to draw attention,” said Tana Bader Inglima, the port’s deputy CEO.
“It’s really up to the private sector to come to us with their ideas,” she said.
The wind down of the port’s capital projects was in some ways timely, given the adverse economic climate wrought by Covid-19.
Arntzen said the port is planning for a 15% shortfall in revenue in the next two-year budget cycle.
“It’s not based on anything scientific because the only thing we know about coronavirus is how much we don’t know,” he said.
Arntzen said the port has a robust reserve fund that, based on current calculations, should cover the shortfall.
The port’s 2019-20 capital budget was $14.7 million. The port calculates its budget biennially, and 2020-21 budget details were not available at press time.
Despite the economic setbacks, Arntzen said Covid-19 has presented opportunities for a new way forward.
“I’m very intrigued by coronavirus in that it’s a very negative thing, but there are very teachable moments in life … I think there are very many opportunities for learning right now. Our way of doing business is in the rearview forever,” he said.
As Benton County emerges from the crisis, Arntzen said he wants the port to consider hiring a consulting firm to quantify business operation changes and new market trends left in Covid-19’s wake.
Arntzen hopes the report will capture data about the increased appeal of attractive master planned, new urbanist communities like Kennewick’s Vista Field, as more people find themselves working from home — some permanently.
New urbanism is a planning and development approach focusing on design elements like walkable blocks and streets, housing and shopping in close proximity to homes and accessible public spaces.
Vista Field’s concept is conducive to a work-from-home lifestyle, given its plans for clustering shops and public amenities within short walking distance of residential dwellings, Arntzen said.
“You have a taxpayer-funded outdoor office where you can sit under some trees and conduct your business,” he said.
“People are going to be walking around with their cellphones and might be conducting multimillion-dollar transactions, and if you and I were passing by, we would say it looks like they’re just dipping their feet in the creek,” he said.
Bader Inglima said the infrastructure is all in for the first phase and the port is wrapping up paperwork with contractor, Total Site Services Inc. of Richland.
Though the port has received interest from prospective entrepreneurs, shovel-ready parcels have yet to be registered in the Benton County records.
Arntzen said the port will call for proposals so those wanting to be part of Vista Field have equal opportunity to be considered.
“I would like to see five or six really interested parties and then see a few of them move forward,” Arntzen said. “We would really like to see some folks who are interested in New Urbanism.”
Though the Arts Center Task Force scrapped plans to build at Vista Field, Arntzen remains optimistic.
“I think it is a very good site for another public facility; it could be another, potential fabulous location for another high-level private sector investment,” he said.
The port also has plans to renovate three existing airplane hangars on site to lease and potentially build a gateway feature at Vista Field’s entrance.
Shovel-ready parcels are available for sale at Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village in Kennewick, including riverfront parcels and others with high visibility along Columbia Drive.
Arntzen suggested the parcels would be well-suited to more wineries and tasting rooms, small restaurants or bistros, a bike shop, “or any number of things that don’t have to be necessarily wine-related,” he said, emphasizing that it’s also an artisan village. “We’re looking for things that will bring vibrancy in.”
The wine industry wanted to draw people to the neighborhood. The port hopes the tasting room atmosphere will draw complementary businesses and possibly residential development.
“It’s a work in progress, but in five years it’s going to be even more successful,” Arntzen said.
In winter 2020, the port completed the construction of two more winery tasting rooms for Gordon Estate Winery and Cave B Estate Winery.
About a half dozen food trucks also joined the scene at the Food Truck Plaza, adjacent to the new tasting rooms along the waterfront trail, including Swampy’s BBQ, Ninja Bistro, Don Taco, Ann’s Best Creole and Soul Food, and Bobablastic Tri-Cities.
Haven Flower Farm also has hosted a pop-up at Columbia Gardens.
Kennewick’s Clover Island has been thriving thanks to increased visitor traffic during the pandemic.
“The island has been popular for people who want to get out of the house and walk,” Arntzen said, adding that the marina has been bustling as well.
The port has seen a lot of usage from the 15- to 30-year-old age group.
“I think they’ve found and made it their place. I’m impressed that the younger people find something inspirational about that place,” he said.
As the Army Corps of Engineers prepares to go to bid within the coming year on the completion of shoreline restoration efforts at Clover Island, the port has been updating its Historic Waterfront Development District master plan, which dates back to the early 2000s.
“We’ve worked with the firm that did the original master plan,” Arntzen said. “We offered them a challenge: Let’s try to be the first to do one without face-to-face public comment.”
He said the port received triple the input they had hoped to get.
“We beat Vista Field progress by multiple magnitudes … it really set the bar,” he said.
The revised master plan will focus on the port’s Clover Island, Columbia Gardens, Willows and former Cable Greens properties.
“What we do on our properties will create some vibrancy for what others in the district are doing,” Bader Inglima said.