Unused hangars at Vista Field set to become public gathering spot

Kennewick’s Vista Field could debut an elegant, sheltered gathering spot by mid-2024.

A pair of unused aircraft hangars on the south side of the 103-acre former municipal airport will be refashioned into a set of pavilions positioned around a courtyard.

Benton County is expected to provide up to $3.4 million to transform the metal buildings by removing walls, adding bathrooms and developing a courtyard through its Rural County Capital Fund, which supports economic development in the county. The commission approved an application from the Port of Kennewick, which owns and is redeveloping Vista Field, on Feb. 7.

The port said it was ready to begin design work once funding was approved.

Larry Peterson, the port’s director of planning and development, said the project could debut by Memorial Day or the Fourth of July 2024.

First, he expects to spend up to six months designing the project and then to solicit construction bids by fall. The bid schedule could change depending on market conditions, but Peterson indicated he’s hopeful prospective contractors will see view it as good winter weather work.

The pavilion promises to be the first major construction at Vista Field since the port tore out runways and began infrastructure work as it prepares to launch the first phase of its eight-phase plan. It aims to establish a town center with a mix of residential, office, retail and dining options in the heart of Kennewick.

The first 21 parcels on 20 acres at the heart of the site went up for sale in June 2022.

When fully built, Vista Field is expected to add 740,000 square feet of retail, office, service and entertainment space, 1,000 homes, condominiums and apartments and a central plaza with public space.

The port closed the airport at the end of 2013, citing the prohibitive cost and lack of the kinds of federal funding that support the Tri-Cities Airport and the Richland Airport. The town center plan developed in a series of public meetings to assess the highest and best use of the property where Navy pilots once practiced landing on a simulated aircraft carrier deck.

Richland-based Total Site Services LLC completed the $4.9 million first phase during the pandemic. The work included streets, sidewalks, benches, lights and stream.

Jersey barriers came down in 2022 and the public can now drive through the property on Crosswind Boulevard, which connects West Grandridge Boulevard and West Deschutes Avenue in the area east of the Three Rivers Convention Center.

The hangars are adjacent to Crosswind on the Deschutes Avenue side of the property. They were preserved to accommodate future use.

The port said the pavilion project will create a more welcoming entrance at Vista Field’s south end.

The Benton County capital fund is funded by an 0.09% sales tax rebate and is dedicated to supporting projects that boost the local economy. The county reports the fund accumulates about $300,000 a month, which it allocates to the five cities, two ports and its own projects.

The Legislature authorized the program in 1997 as part of a larger package that funded construction of a new stadium for the Seattle Seahawks.

As of Dec. 31, 2022, the fund had distributed nearly $19.4 million. Another $23.9 million was available.

The fund supported the initial Vista Field site development.

Other recent projects include a pair of sewer lift stations that allowed Benton City to contemplate development south of Interstate 82, the Port of Benton’s Innovation Center, Richland’s efforts to update the Swift corridor, demolition of the former Richland City Hall, development of Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village and Center Parkway construction south of Gage Boulevard.

For information about Vista Field, including available properties and design standards, go to vistafield.com. Amber Hanchette, the port’s real estate director, is overseeing property sales.

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