Ex-Tri-Cities Fever duo heating up stretch of Richland waterfront

Lionell Singleton

Houston Lillard

Lionell Singleton and Houston Lillard were fierce competitors when they played for the Tri-Cities Fever, an indoor football league.

They clashed on the field – Singleton as a defensive back and Houston as quarterback. Off the field, they were the best of friends and roommates who leveraged their good fortune to help students succeed.

The Fever went dormant in 2016 but the two men remained committed to helping others and to pursuing business ventures as co-founders of World Builder Inc.

Now, they’re launching one of the most intriguing apartment projects yet in the Tri-Cities.

Vertisee is a 24-unit loft-style complex in the 1100 block of Columbia Park Trail, aka the Island View area. The project will sit in a neglected stretch nestled behind the levee at the Yakima River Delta at the Richland Wye.

World Builder Inc. pulled permits to develop the $4 million project in December. The project’s first phase includes two three-story buildings.

Vertisee, a play on vertical, will offer one-bedroom, one-bathroom units on the ground floor. The second story will offer two-bedroom, two-bath units with lofts. The added height will allow views toward the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima rivers.

Portland-based Ankrom Moisan Architecture, known for its gleaming towers in some of the West Coast’s most urban settings, designed the Richland project as a clean complement to a neighborhood in transition. Future phases will add more residential units and commercial space, Singleton and Lillard said.

The duo began acquiring lots in the 1100 block of Columbia Park Trail about three years ago and began making plans to develop. They control about three acres across several parcels.

Vertisee will offer an outdoor barbecue area in the space between the two buildings. But its primary amenity is its location.

Courtesy Elite Construction & Development

The project comes at a pivotal time for the area Richland refers to as “Columbia Park Trail East.”

Ben Franklin Transit’s headquarters are to the east and the neighborhood is marked by modest homes and aging industrial buildings.

But Richland has big dreams for the area and its proximity to the rivers.

It is working with the Port of Kennewick and other regional partners to rebuild the stretch of Columbia Park Trail between Ben Franklin Transit and Columbia Center Boulevard to city standards. That includes curbs, gutters, sidewalks, bike lanes and landscaping. Overhead utilities will be buried, and the Wye Park parking lot and street frontage are being improved.

Apollo Inc. of Kennewick is the contractor for the $5 million project, which is funded with grants from the Benton-Franklin Council of Governments, Washington state Department of Ecology and city real estate excise tax funds.

It is a worthy candidate for upgrades.

The Sacajawea Heritage Trail runs nearby and there are offices, medical clinics and other employment centers in the neighborhood. Columbia Center is only a mile or so away.

Singleton, Lillard and their contractor say they’re working with the city to ensure the projects are complementary.

“There are lots of active things you can do there,” he said, saying it will cater to young professionals, families, senior and anyone interested in the outdoor lifestyle.

“Who wants to come out here?” he said.

Vertisee is the apartment development planned along the Tri-City waterfront. Columbia River Walk in Pasco recently welcomed tenants to the north side of the Columbia. And upscale apartments are under construction at Willow Pointe, north of the WSU Tri-Cities campus in Richland.

Elite Construction and Development is the general contractor. Harms Engineering is the civil engineer. Both are based in Pasco.

Max Jones of Elite said the team has begun preliminary site work as it prepares to lay foundations. The site is mostly ready for construction. The project required upgrades to utilities and removal of old buildings. There is “overburden” or dumped dirt on site, which will be removed or shoved aside for the initial construction

Singleton and Lillard bring a splash of fame to the project, their first new construction apartment project.

Lillard lives in Portland and Singleton splits his time between the Tri-Cities and the Rose City.

Singleton, originally from Tallahassee, Florida, was an All-Conference selection at Florida International University. Despite his success, he said he’d been essentially homeless and living in his car when he was tapped by the Fever.

That opportunity allowed him to move into an apartment and to build a life not only on the field but in business.

“I never looked back,” he said. “As soon as I got that opportunity, I had a roof over my head.”

He’s retained his commitment to opening doors to others. He worked with Wellspring Church to establish the Afterschool Matters Program, which serves students at Eastgate Elementary and Park Middle School in Kennewick and Jefferson Elementary in Richland.

Singleton was named to three All Indoor Football League teams in his five-year career and was inducted into the Indoor Football Hall of Fame in 2016.

Lillard hails from Oakland, California. He earned a sports management degree from Southeast Missouri State University and spent five years with the Tri-Cities Fever. He founded Team Lillard Football to mentor kids and help them go to college.

The men said they envisioned Vertisee as a long-term investment but could consider selling or bringing on investors to retire the construction debt.

The project is financed with a construction loan issued by Broadmark Realty Capital.

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