Port of Kennewick: Plenty of room for new developments

Land for sale at Vista Field, Columbia Gardens and soon Clover Island could bring a variety of developments to Kennewick in the coming year and beyond.

The Port of Kennewick’s real estate portfolio offers prime locations in the city’s center, downtown area and along the river.

The first phase of construction wrapped at Vista Field, and the port is now marketing lots there and at Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village. The last phase of shoreline restoration on Clover Island is nearing completion, enabling new lots to hit the market soon.

“Things are rolling along well, but we have to keep things in perspective – we have a really strange economic market in front of us,” said longtime port CEO Tim Arntzen.

He noted the pandemic, supply chain challenges and shortages, the ripple effects of wars abroad and new disease outbreaks, inflation and increasing interest rates.

Despite these challenges and uncertainties, the port is prepared to be patient to welcome the developments that will be the best fit for the community.

The port is a public entity serving a population of 151,124 and extends from Kennewick to West Richland. It is governed by three elected commissioners and has an operating budget of $3.7 million, a capital budget of $5 million and receives about $4.5 million in property tax revenues.

Vista Field on the market

The 21 lots in the 20-acre first phase of the Vista Field redevelopment have officially hit the market.

Arntzen said a local builder walked the site with port staff, envisioning a pocket neighborhood comprised of four to 16 clustered houses sharing central gardens. Another imagined live-above shop space.

Other proposals were inspired by the business-amplifying synergy that will come from repurposing two of three aircraft hangars into outdoor pavilions for visitors to enjoy pop-up events and performances at the adjoining plaza.

The 103-acre former municipal airport is located east of the Toyota Center and Three Rivers Convention Center.

The port had entertained other strategies for making use of the hangars, but, as Arntzen explained, those aren’t a reality.

“You can’t build them up (under) the new energy codes, so there’s no way to turn them into a restaurant or microbrewery. The numbers were just stunning. Outdoor pavilions and seating were the economical way to go while still preserving the history,” he said.

A third hangar will become a tenant space.

Intentionally blurred zoning within the development allows for a more creative mix of proposals.

“We are willing to talk to anybody and everybody, but it is nice to see this first round of interest coming from local,” Arntzen said. He hopes the port’s first sale will be solidified by Thanksgiving.

He said he is particularly interested in working with developers wanting to build more modestly priced housing.

“I have a soft spot for people who want to own their first home and seniors downsizing – they need to actually have a chance,” he said, noting that it’s a potential barrier across the Tri-Cities and beyond. “This is a problem we have to solve.”

Though he emphasized that all types of housing are welcome at Vista Field, he envisions cottage-style homes ranging from 1,300  to 1,400 square feet and a lot of walkable public areas, green space and nearby amenities.

“Part of the beauty of Vista Field is it’s supposed to be a place where all groups can choose to be there – all income levels, all ethnic backgrounds, all political persuasions, everyone. It’s a place that’s going to give everyone an opportunity,” he said.

No one wants to see the site turn into a series of strip malls, he said.

“I think we can keep our fingers on the pulse of the project in collaboration with the builders to keep the course … We’re going to stay true and keep our eye on the north star set by the community,” he said.

“We will leave money on the table if it’s not a good fit. It takes time.”

In the meantime, visitors to Vista Field can enjoy walking the paved paths along a meandering stream and crossing it via bridge overlooks. Some areas feature steps so kids and adults alike can dip their feet and play.

“I think (Vista Field) really can be an icon for our community,” Arntzen said.

Columbia Gardens lots

Development opportunities are waiting along Columbia Drive at Columbia Gardens in downtown Kennewick.

Swampy’s Barbecue, a tenant at the site’s food truck plaza, soon will be breaking ground on a brick-and-mortar shop to better facilitate catering operations and serve customers.

Other lots are still available with more opportunities coming soon, thanks to The Willows and former Cable Greens, sites that bookend the property.

Previously, plans for the 7-acre Willows property had included a culinary school operated by Columbia Basin College and public-facing eateries run by students. The plans fizzled, offering possibilities for other developers.

Arntzen can see the former Cable Greens become a residential development.

“If I were inclined to move … I would love to go live by the cable bridge. I would build a two-story so that I could have Duffy’s Pond access out my back door and a balcony upstairs where I could enjoy a glass of wine and views of the cable bridge lit up at night. That’s prime property,” he said.

Other developments include a new winery, Muret-Gaston Winery, which shares a building with Gordon Estate; the wrapping of utility boxes with artwork; a mural commissioned by neighboring KIE Supply Corp. on the wall facing Columbia Gardens, which complements the other art installations; and the addition of signage on blue “tourist information” road signs along local highways.

Over the summer, three Saturday pop-up vendor events were held and the port plans to continue those in the future.

Clover Island

The Port of Kennewick is preparing to list vacant lots for lease on Clover Island by the first of the year, following completion of the final segment of shoreline restoration.

“It’s almost done,” Arntzen said, noting that progress relies on timeframes provided by the fluctuating level of the river.

The last phase of shoreline restoration on Clover Island is nearing completion,
enabling new lots to hit the market soon. (Courtesy Port of Kennewick)

Earlier in the year, a developer approached the port with plans to buy the Clover Island Inn and convert it into micro apartments. The deal fell apart when the port refused to sell the land the inn occupies.

Arntzen said the vast majority of 600 comments the port received encouraged it to stand by its policy of not selling land on Clover Island.

Arntzen said finding the right developers can take time.

“You have to get that first sale in, and then the phone won’t stop ringing. Like anything in life, don’t panic; we don’t want to get in our own way and stumble … We want to be thoughtful but also have to be aggressively patient and get the right builders in,” he said.

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