July 24, 2008

Opponent Disputes Revenue Expected From Development

By John Trumbo, Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.

Jul. 23--Vista Field's 92 acres and its airport have become a $286 million question for the Kennewick City Council.

Or is it $86 million?

A spirited workshop Tuesday saw two different scenarios but no decision.

The two-hour showdown featured a Kennewick businessman who desires to save the airport and numbers-crunching arguments disputing a consultant's report suggesting the air strip could be a rich field for developers.

The council will return to the issue in another workshop to which the Port of Kennewick commissioners and members of the Vista Field Task Force will be invited.

Seattle consultant Belt Collins, who was hired by the city to evaluate highest and best uses for the land owned by the Port of Kennewick, says the economic potential from closing the airport and allowing industrial, residential and commercial development could be $286 million.

The council had a first look Tuesday at the consultant's analysis, which examined four alternatives. The study said converting the land into a mix of development also could enrich the city's sales taxes by $1 million once development is at build-out in 2030.

But Carl Cadwell of Cadwell Laboratories claimed the consultant and city had overestimated the potential commercial and industrial growth by as much as 15 percent and inflated assumptions for development.

While the consultant claimed Tri-Cities growth through 2030 would bring 25 percent of all new industrial and commercial growth in Benton and Franklin counties to Vista Field's 92 acres, Cadwell said 10 percent is more realistic, according to commercial real estate agents he contacted.

Cadwell said he asked the city and consultant for data to substantiate the 25 percent claim in development but was "flatly denied."

"That (percentage) is a real critical number," Cadwell said. More realistic numbers would bring $86 million for the value of development and about $350,000 in sales tax revenue annually, he said.

Bob Hammond, city manager, said the city's numbers are accurate and called the disagreement about the value of development "a difference of assumptions." But he agreed with Cadwell that the consultant's report had "no basis" for the 25 percent claimed as potential growth-related development.

The council is trying to decide what would be a suitable use for the airport property as a land use issue. The decision on keeping, expanding or closing the airport and converting the property for other commercial, industrial and residential use is the port's, Hammond said.

The four alternatives considered by the consultant and a task force formed by the city are: keep the airport as it is; close the airport and allow mixed-use development; enhance the airport within current boundaries and allow related uses on about 20 acres outside the airport fence; and enhance the airport inside and outside the airport fence on all of the property.

Hammond said the port owns the property "free and clear," and that the "city has no (real estate) interest in it."

But the city does have a right to comment about the land use issues, he said.

Hammond said no one on the task force believes in leaving the airport as it is.

Cadwell and Marjy Leggett, a representative of the aircraft pilots at Vista Field, favor enhancing the airport. Cadwell said several businesses that use the airport create up to $100 million a year in revenue while providing 296 jobs. All that might go away if the airport goes away, he said.

Leggett said the airport has potential to become a tourist destination for the Tri-Cities and should be thought of as being part of a regional transportation plan.


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