Reset button on land gives Richland a second chance

Richland made a smart move when it inked a deal for a land swap with ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston in 2011.

A year earlier, the city had sold ConAgra a prime piece of land at Columbia Point where the company intended to build its new headquarters.

Plans changed for ConAgra and it decided to stay in its Kennewick building. The company approached the city about a land swap. ConAgra was eyeing some land out by Horn Rapids for a warehouse and wanted to trade it for the 8.63 acres it had at Columbia Point.

The city liked the deal and added a provision that it would buy back the Columbia Point property by April 1, 2013, if the swap didn't happen in 2012.

The city closed on the property last week. It had the right to buy back the land at the 2010 sale price to ConAgra, about $1.43 million, if the project did not come to fruition.

Now the city has a great piece of property that it can find a great use for once again. Gary Ballew, Richland's economic development manager, said the city "will be working to have something special" on the property.

The area was zoned for industrial use long ago, but redevelopment brought new life to Columbia Point in the form of hotels, a golf course, restaurants, condominiums, stores and office buildings.

Mayor John Fox said it is "important we have something that fits with the vision of the area." Just what that will be is sure to be a topic of debate for the city council in the months ahead, and the public in general.

A bit of controversy surrounded the original sale to ConAgra, with some people disagreeing that an office complex was an appropriate use for that gem of a lot.

But now the city controls the land's fate again and has a chance to make some magic at Columbia Point with a project that should appeal to the community at large.

And even though it's out the money to repurchase the land, Richland could make that back later this year. ConAgra is negotiating to buy 80 acres from the city in the Horn Rapids Industrial Park.

Even though the land was tied up for three years, there's no harm done. The city was wise enough to safeguard its future with provisions in the land swap agreement.

And while ConAgra won't be moving into new waterfront offices, the company remains strong in the community, and its investment in the Horn Rapids project is a sign of its commitment to increase operations here in some fashion.

Columbia Point has become a showcase for the community, and more development will only increase its draw. The city should take its time to find the right fit for the area -- something that complements the good work by those who have already invested in businesses and homes in the area.

Richland did a good job in retaining the asset. Let's hope they match that wisdom in future decisions about its development.