For over thirty years, Thomas Moak has been working to improve our Tri-Cities community as a volunteer community leader and elected public policy maker. As an elected leader with the Port, he has been instrumental in creating and furthering the multiple partnerships and visionary leadership that sets the Port of Kennewick apart. From creating a rejuvenated Kennewick waterfront tied to historic Downtown Kennewick, to establishing an exciting community-driven urban village underway at Vista Field in the heart of the commercial and entertainment centers of the Tri-Cities, Thomas Moak has been a powerful advocate and enthusiastic collaborator.
Today, Vista Field means to me something a lot more than a former airfield, much more than just another building project, and certainly much more than a real estate transaction.
For me, Vista Field is a vision of a community transformed. It is a 103-acre mixed-use development with impressive community participation smack dab in the middle of the Tri-Cities’ commercial and entertainment center. It is a walkable, bikeable, drivable neighborhood centered on the Vista Arts Center, which will be built by a private community-led committee. And Vista Field development is now underway. The Port just awarded a $5 million contract for the first phase of infrastructure that will be completed in early 2020, and then development on some 20 acres can begin.Read More
During World War II, Vista Field served as an auxiliary airfield to the Pasco Naval Air Station. It was way out “in the middle of nowhere” at the time. After the war, it served as a community airport under various ownership and managements. But the Tri-Cities began to grow up around the airport, beginning with Columbia Center in 1969 and continuing with a variety of stores, hotels, restaurants, and public facilities. Unlike airports in Pasco and Richland, Vista Field received no FAA funding because of proximity, so eventually the airfield became a drain on the Port and was hemmed in by development.
I started taking an interest in Vista Field while I served on the Kennewick City Council some 15 years ago. At the time, the port was not interested in discussing Vista Field with the city. That just didn’t seem fair to me. But the city saw greater potential for the airport, even if the port at the time did not. As mayor in 2009, I took a lead in promoting the closure of Vista Field. At the time, that campaign was unsuccessful. However, several years later, the port decided to commission an environmental impact statement that looked at whether the airport should be expanded or closed. No one wanted the status quo.
Under the leadership of architects DPZ, plans were developed for a great “aerotropolis” on one hand and an innovative mixed-use community on the other. Both exciting, the one would need a tremendous tax increase and other could be financing with property sales. The community overwhelmingly chose the mixed-use concept, ending a long-standing controversy.
The airport closed on December 31, 2013 and I took office as Port Commissioner on January 1, 2014. My role and the port’s role were to bring the mixed-use community to life. Three elements have made this such a success that we have already won planning awards for Vista Field. One was engaging DPZ Partners, who had miraculously got the community to embrace the concept of airport closure into a new urbanist neighborhood. The second was involving the public in the planning effort, which took place in November of 2014—a whole week of design charrettes with the public interacting with architects, designers, port officials, and each other. I was blown away with how the community was able to suggest and the professionals were able to create a grand masterpiece. The public continues to guide our development. The third element was enlisting the City of Kennewick as a collaborator and partner. The airport was wholly within the city, subject to city zoning and regulations, and the port wanted to see changes. This involved working carefully with a lot of smart and capable people in all departments of the city, resulting in city council approval in late 2018. Many people said it couldn’t be done. There were too many variables, there was too much bad blood, no one had ever tackled such a project before. I’m very proud of the efforts of all to deliver such a great vision for the Tri-Cities.
I have made developing Vista Field my highest priority as a port commissioner and would like to continue with the vision we have created. I commit to following through and creating the vibrancy, the atmosphere, and the feel that will make Vista Field special. This is the largest urban project the Tri-Cities has ever seen. I also want to see it the very best project we have ever seen.
I have been in communities throughout the country who would die to have rivers like the Columbia, Yakima, and the Snake run through them. The Tri-Cities is very fortunate in many ways to be located on these great rivers and the Port of Kennewick is indeed blessed to have its headquarters on Clover Island along the great Columbia.
As a volunteer, I was a part of the original “Bridge to Bridge, River to Rails” project in Kennewick in the early 2000s where we talked about and planned to “Bring Back the Magic of the River”. This was a great project in community participation and really began to focus the attention of the community on how we had turned our backs on our river and what we could do about it. While that plan itself never came to fruition, the idea never left many of us that we could do more with our river.Read More
The Port of Kennewick began buying up properties on the north side of Columbia Drive during the 2000s with hopes of being able to use these properties to create job opportunities and rid this neighborhood of some of the blight that had taken place over many years. Volunteer projects cleaned up Duffy’s pond, old buildings were removed, and some of the most blighted properties were taken down. Community leaders created a pattern language for the atmosphere we wanted to create.
When I joined the Port in 2014, we had opportunities to start developing. The Columbia Gardens Wine and Artisan Village came to be formed, with first two wineries. Through a collaborative process, those wineries were chosen for their quality and both have won awards and have been great pioneers in our village. Now we have food trucks in the Village with an awesome variety of tasty items, a wine tasting building under construction and plans to sell property for additional complementary businesses. A mural recognizing the role of Latinos in the agriculture of our region graces the west walls of our winery building. What a great start to turning this neighborhood around. This is only a start. At the port, we want to spur private development in this neighborhood with additional housing and businesses and people who want to enjoy the amenities of living near downtown and the river.
We have not neglected our home base on Clover Island, adding artwork commemorating our partnership with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Nation and several over fun pieces. We’ve enhanced our boat ramp and added bathrooms on the west side of the island. We’ve torn down our former port office building in preparation for exciting new development. That can happen once the Corps of Engineers puts in over $3 million of habitat restoration and together with moneys from the port and port partners, there will be more opportunities on the island in a couple years.
I believe in the river as an important part of our port portfolio and I will continue to work to create greater opportunities for the public to enjoy that river. Public access is important, art is important to add the experience. We are fortunate at the port to enjoy the iconic Cable Bridge and Clover Island Lighthouse as anchors to our development. I personally enjoy walking from downtown Kennewick to the island and the wine village along Duffy’s pond. What great experiences for me…and for you!