City of Kennewick: Forging forward to ‘normal’ despite pandemic

As the Tri-Cities negotiates its second year of the Covid-19 pandemic, cities and private developers alike continue to forge ahead with projects, bringing new services to the community.

Despite state and federal level mandates limiting in-person business, tightened budgets and ballooning construction costs, Kennewick – the largest and most densely populated of the four cities at 85,940 residents, up 1,000 over the previous year – never saw a major drop in development.

“It’s very encouraging,” said Evelyn Lusignan, public relations and customer service manager. “It’s a sign we’re going to come out of this and that those who invest in our community have all the confidence things will get back to normal.”

“New development kept coming in, new plans were proposed and development meetings held,” Lusignan said.

Homebuilders applied for 171 permits in the city for the first eight months of 2021, down slightly from 193 for the same period the previous year.

“The good news is we remain well positioned to continue providing over 300 services to our community,” she said, referencing a tally taken a few years back of all programs and services provided by city departments.

For 2021-22, the city of Kennewick’s biennial budget is $396 million.

About $66 million is budgeted for capital projects.

Trios Southridge Hospital expansion project at 3810 Plaza Way, Kennewick. (Photo by Scott Butner Photography)

Sales tax revenue climbs

Though some of the city’s revenue sources such as gambling and lodging taxes continue to lag, sales tax revenue has been strong in 2021, up 22% over the previous year.

Lusignan said it’s a result of business picking back up as brick-and-mortar storefronts reopened and the public returned to more normal routines.

Sales tax distributions from large improvement projects such as the Kennewick High School renovation and substantial expansions of Southridge and Kamiakin high schools also significantly contributed to this uptick and helped mitigate revenue losses.

Lusignan acknowledged a handful of businesses didn’t survive the pandemic and that some are still struggling. “Our county was shut down longer than any county in the state, so it had an impact for sure,” she said.

The city’s focus on online tools available on its website – for submitting plans and permit applications – also helped keep projects moving forward while city hall was closed to the public.

“It made for a good transition to get people to use the online services available to them 24/7,” Lusignan said.

In addition to private investment, in May 2021, the city of Kennewick received about $8 million as a part of the federal coronavirus relief bill approved in March 2021, called the American Rescue Plan.

A second distribution for the same amount will be sent in May 2022.

“The city has been reviewing (the) requirements and exploring potential uses of the funding to determine how best to utilize these funds to assist our city and the broader Tri-Cities region in its economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic,” Lusignan said.

New fire stations

One of the city’s biggest projects wrapping up in fall 2021 is the new fire station on Grandridge Boulevard behind Three Rivers Convention Center, a
$4.5 million undertaking.

It replaces the previous Fire Station 3 behind the Benton County Justice Center on West Quinault Avenue. The new station is projected to serve the community for the next 40 to 50 years.

Within the next three years, a new fire station will be built on 10th Avenue next to the old Trios Hospital, formerly known as Kennewick General, replacing an older station and administrative offices at 600 S. Auburn St.

At 12,570 square feet, the new station will feature extra deep bays able to accommodate up to three fire/EMS units, with ample space to house reserve vehicles or possibly a future aerial apparatus, as well as additional space for future needs.

“The highlight of the station design is an out-front display bay that will house the first motorized fire truck purchased by the city of Kennewick in 1922,” Lusignan said.

“This contemporary display in a state-of-the-art facility will fit in well with the Vista Field development project,” she said.

Lusignan noted the city and Port of Kennewick meet frequently to discuss how to best work together to support the port’s goals of developing the property.

Infrastructure projects

Additional infrastructure improvements were completed or are currently underway around Kennewick.

In Southridge, construction of the highly anticipated underpass at Highway 395 and Ridgeline Drive began in early April 2021.

The project includes on- and off-ramps, providing direct access to Ridgeline Drive, making this rapidly growing area more appealing to developers.

“Currently the Ridgeline Drive intersection with Highway 395 is restricted to not allow left turns out from Ridgeline onto Highway 395. This restricts the ability of adjacent properties to successfully develop without the benefit of easy access to and from their properties,” Lusignan said.

An additional northbound 395 lane also is included in the project and will extend from Ridgeline to north of Hildebrand Boulevard, as well as new turn lanes at all four legs of the Highway 395-Hildebrand intersection.

The $13.4 million construction bid was awarded in February 2021 after five years of planning.

The project is estimated to cost $21 million.

The city will receive $15 million from the state’s Connecting Washington funds – a 16-year program funded primarily by an 11.9-cent gas tax increase fully phased in on July 1, 2016.

Lusignan emphasized the significance of securing Connecting Washington funding, explaining that a lot of money is committed to the west side of the state where roadways are stressed by the rapidly increasing and densifying population.

“We’re all paying this gas tax … it’s great to see our tax dollars coming back,” she said.

The project is expected to be finished by fall 2022.

In downtown Kennewick, work wrapped up in summer 2021 on improvements to Washington Street, intended to extend pedestrian connectivity between the downtown area, Clover Island and Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village.

Wider sidewalks, additional landscaping, new street lights and a pedestrian crossing with flashing beacon at Railroad Avenue were added in partnership with the Port of Kennewick and Complete Streets, each of which contributed $500,000 to the project.

Around the city, asphalt overlaying has been completed on Southridge Boulevard from Hildebrand to 27th Avenue, Hildebrand Boulevard from Southridge to South Dawes Street and 27th Avenue from Union Street to Highway 395 and Highway 395 to Ely Street.

The pedestrian flashing beacons also were added to 15 pedestrian crossings across the city, thanks to a $855,000 federal grant.

A new six million-gallon reservoir near 18th Avenue and Kellogg Street is set for completion by July 2022, replacing a larger, outdated reservoir on the site.

The partnership between the city of Kennewick and Vijay Patel of A1 Pearl Development Group to expand Three Rivers Convention Center, build a Broadway-style theater, seven-story hotel and commercial space is ongoing as the developers continue to explore financing options.

“We are still in our due diligence period,” Lusignan said, emphasizing that the project is still being pursued.

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