Monday, December 4, 2023

A Richland sushi restaurant is 1st to confirm Vista Field building plans

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A Richland sushi shop is the first private business to publicly confirm it wants to be part of Vista Field, the ambitious urban redevelopment of Kennewick’s former airport.

Ara Sushi & Grill said it is designing a restaurant for Vista Field and hopes to buy property from the Port of Kennewick with an eye toward opening in spring 2024.

The deal is not complete but Ara confirmed it is working with an architect on building plans. It will submit them to the port as part of the process to participate in the vision of homes, businesses, restaurants, shops and entertainment venues on the property east of the Three Rivers Convention Center.

Sashimi is featured on the menu of Ara Sushi and Grill. Idaho Statesman

The port could not comment on pending deal with Ara Sushi, but said several developers are actively working on proposals to buy sites in the first phase of the project.

The port’s elected commission must review plans to ensure they comply with Vista Field’s village-scale design scheme. The board must approve property sales.

The commission has not publicly reviewed any proposal, though it could in the near future, said Tana Bader Inglima, deputy director and spokeswoman.

Ara Sushi opened in early 2021 at the Riverwalk Shopping mall, 430 George Washington Way. Its suite was once home to Fox & Bear Public House, an intimate gathering spot that closed in August 2016. Several businesses have occupied the space since then.

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Ara Sushi and Grill is on the upper level of the Riverwalk retail building in Richland. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Ara Sushi specializes in Korean and Japanese food with an emphasis on sushi rolls, sashimii and nigiri. It has not finalized a menu for the future location, it said.

Big white “X”es

Vista Field was used during World War II by trainee pilots at Naval Air Station Pasco to practice taking off and landing from aircraft carrier decks, an outline of which was once painted on the pavement.

After the war, it became a popular municipal airport catering to private pilots and businesses. It struggled financially without the Federal Aviation Administration support its neighbors in Richland and Pasco receive.

The port made the controversial decision to close it in mid-2013. On December 31 of that year, five giant “X”es were painted across the runway, formally ending its use as an airport.

The runway and associated taxiways remain but are being overgrown by weeds. Visitors can walk the old pavement, but it is ringed by concrete and stone barriers to keep vehicles out.

The port set out to transform the 103-acre property into a mixed-use development and established design schematics to guide future developers.

No sales, yet

To date, there have been no land sales.

The physical transformation began in 2019 with an $4.9 million project that installed infrastructure to serve future development, including extending a new road, Crosswind Boulevard, across the site. Sidewalks, streetlights and an 800-foot linear water feature with fountains set the stage for the first of eight phases.

The port dedicated the project in June 2022 and officially listed 21 parcels on 20 acres. Lot sizes range up to 15,000 square feet and are earmarked for single-family development, for live-work space and for a mix of other uses, including restaurants. Prices vary depending on the location, size and future use.

When all eight phases are complete, Vista Field will have 740,000 square feet of retail, office, service and entertainment space as well as 1,000 residences divided between homes, condominiums and apartments.

It is expected to induce $500 million in private investment and support nearly 3,900 jobs.

Priming the pump

The port itself will likely be the first builder at Vista Field. It recently launched design work on a $3.4 million project to transform two airplane hangars into an elegant public pavilion and event venue designed to bring people to the site.

The hangars are on the south side of the runway, at Crosswind Boulevard and West Deschutes Avenue.

Benton County is supporting the hangar pavilion project through the Rural County Capital Fund, supported by an 0.09% state sales tax rebate.

The port hired CKJT Architects PLLC, its longtime design partner for Vista Field, to design the project under a $256,000 agreement in February.

It will take several months to design the project, secure permits and hire a contractor, but officials hope to welcome guests by mid 2024.

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Veteran business and government reporter Wendy Culverwell covers housing, development and other issues for the Tri-City Herald.

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