Columbia Gardens evolves into destination area despite pandemic

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Port of Kennewick spent 2020 engaging in transparent urban planning; working to revitalize Kennewick’s historic waterfront district; and constructing a regional town center in place of the former Vista Field airport.

At Vista Field the port is following a community-driven master plan to create a pedestrian-focused development with mixed-use neighborhoods and urban amenities. There were some materials, permitting and scheduling delays due to the pandemic but the project moved ahead.

Vista Field construction was deemed an essential public benefit and work there continued in compliance with state and federal guidelines throughout 2020 – providing continued local employment and minimizing additional costs to taxpayers.

With financial support from city of Kennewick, Benton County and Benton PUD, the first phase of Vista Field infrastructure is complete. This includes streets, sidewalks, lighting, landscaping, a pond, fountains, plaza and streamside esplanade.

The port is now working to close the construction contract, define parcels and market available lots in the central 20 acres.

Those lots will be sold to the private-sector for commercial, retail and residential development, and the proceeds will help fund future phases of infrastructure until the entire 103-acre site plan is complete.

At full build-out, Vista Field is expected to generate more than $500 million in private-sector investment with more than 1,000 residential units and 740,000 square feet of commercial space.

In east Kennewick, the port partnered with the city, county and the Hanford Area Economic Investment Fund Advisory Committee to expand on its Columbia Gardens Wine & Artisan Village near the base of the cable bridge.

The port finished construction of a fourth winery building and additional parking areas in early February, before the pandemic lockdowns.

The new building houses tasting rooms for Cave B Estate Winery and Gordon Estate Winery. Those wineries were excited to join Bartholomew Winery and Monarcha/Palencia Wine Company which opened at Columbia Gardens in early 2018. 

Cave B and Gordon Estate had finished personalizing their tasting rooms and were planning a grand-opening celebration Covid-19 hit.

The port was one of the first organizations to cancel planned public events.

The grand opening celebration was paused.

After Gov. Jay Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order took effect, the port’s hospitality tenants – including a hotel, restaurants, mobile vendors and the wineries – were forced to develop alternate methods of sales and service to survive.

The port recognized a need for flexibility to sustain local jobs. It offered rent deferral to assist tenants during the extended closures.

In support of our tenants, the port also added a shade structure, lighting and seating improvements to the Columbia Gardens Food Truck Plaza.  A restroom and additional amenities, including a family playground, are planned for 2021.

Columbia Gardens is now home to six permanent food trucks offering a variety of cuisine including BBQ, Asian-fusion, authentic Mexican, Creole and soul food, bubble tea, snack foods, charcuterie plates and Mediterranean-inspired meals and desserts.

The good news is that the wineries and food trucks are open. Columbia Gardens is evolving into a destination area with art installations, great food, wonderful wines and a recreational path – all nestled beside the scenic Duffy’s Pond. 

Six shovel-ready parcels are available for sale to stimulate additional private-sector development.

Adjacent to Columbia Gardens is Clover Island, where the port and its partners have been working for more than a decade to add public amenities, improve the shoreline and create physical and visual access from the island to the Columbia River.

The pandemic hit Clover Island from both sides.

Traveling was restricted but outdoor recreation encouraged. As a result, its marina, boat launch and shoreline trails experienced their highest-ever volume of public use.

But the cost to maintain the island increased dramatically when the state Department of Corrections pulled its work crews because the pandemic.

Staff had to juggle resources, assignments and priorities to ensure cleanliness, sanitation, trash removal and landscaping standards such that the public continued to feel safe and welcome.

The port added signage to the marina and implemented a life-jacket loaner program to encourage public safety. It approved patio expansions and created an advertising campaign to promote its Clover Island and Columbia Gardens development areas. 

In addition, the port began a new master planning process for its Historic Kennewick Waterfront District properties. With no in-person workshops allowed, a series of online forums were offered to involve the citizenry – resulting in greater community engagement than for any project in the port’s history.

The port also continued its partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers to restore Clover Island’s north shoreline and extend the island’s Riverwalk trail. The project’s schedule was slowed when design meetings were forced online; however, the Corps is now completing its review and preparing that project for bid in 2021.

In other parts of its district, port land sales enabled a new fire station and a new police station for West Richland. In Richland, the port committed $800,000 toward Columbia Park Trail improvements and another $400,000 toward the Center Parkway extension.

In the coming years, Port of Kennewick will continue serving as an economic development catalyst throughout its 485-square-mile district. As it has done since its founding in 1915, the port will foster partnerships and implement creative work plans which address evolving community needs.

Tim Arntzen is the Port of Kennewick CEO.

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