Prosser leaders to transform Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center

By Mary Hopkin, Herald staff writerSeptember 9, 2008 

PROSSER -- On a clear, crisp fall day you can see Mount Adams from the picturesque bluff in Prosser. Below, a great blue heron may land on a boulder in the lazy Yakima River as cars whiz past on Interstate 82.

On the bluff, it is peaceful and quiet, allowing views of the countryside with its vineyards, orchards and hop fields.

That's what makes the future site of the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center so special, said Mike Hogue, vice president of the center's executive board. But five years since plans for the center started, the site shows no sign of development.

Nearly $5 million has been raised for the project and there was even a ground-breaking ceremony several years ago. "There were some missteps and the project got stalled," Hogue said.

Now Hogue and some of Prosser's most well-known farmers, grape growers and winery owners have taken control of the project and are vowing to transform the 22 acres overlooking the Yakima River into a must-see tourist attraction.

"The board is working on issues from the past and getting the wine community involved to ask them for ideas and for feedback on the plan,' Hogue told the Port of Benton commission last week. "The worst thing we can do is go off in an unplanned direction."

Hogue and other organizers said the original building design, which was about 17,000 square feet with an estimated cost of $14 million, has been scrapped. The group plans to design a new, more affordable center.

New plans call for the building to be pared down to about 14,500 square feet, and the group hopes to keep the budget at about $10 million.

"We are starting from scratch," said Dick Olsen of Olsen Estates, who also sits on the Clore board.

Although they are starting from scratch, they have a head start with money in the coffers and a refreshed, enthusiastic board comprised of some of the area's most influential movers and shakers.

In addition to Hogue, Bud Mercer and Olsen, the board includes Hope Moore, of Heaven's Cave Cellars; Jack Chapman, of Chapman-Lampson Real Estate; Fran Forgette, of Rettig, Osborne, and Forgette; Jane Hagarty, of the Port of Benton; Robin Pollard, of the Washington Wine Commission; Nancy Clore Dexter, Walter Clore's daughter; Allen Shoup, of Long Shadows Vintners; Tom Stokes, president and CEO of Tree Top; and Dan Bernardo, dean of Washington State University's College of Agriculture.

Having Bernardo on the board is a key to what the group is hoping to accomplish, Mercer said.

"We really want to get WSU involved in the architecture, the landscaping, anywhere we think they can help," said Hogue. "Bringing their expertise, maybe having a professor and his class visit the site and make it their project."

Hogue said it's also important to keep winery owners and grape growers involved in the decision making.

The Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center is going to showcase more than the area's wines, Olsen said.

"This is the perfect opportunity to educate people," he said. "Bud, Mike and I aren't just businessmen, we're also farmers. So we have expanded the vision to bring the different crops grown here into the fold."

Tourists may come to town to taste wines, but with an expanded center they can leave with a greater understanding about how the wine happened, other crops grown in the area and what makes the Mid-Columbia such a rich agricultural resource.

The site is the perfect place to tell the story, Hogue said.

"Our first goal is to tell about Walt Clore and his history here, and our second goal is to tell the story of the agriculture region," he said. "There is romance in wine -- it's the linchpin for the other crops."

The group hopes to start construction in six to eight months. To do that, they are putting together funding requests and will be going to Olympia to lobby state legislators for the project.

* Mary Hopkin: 585-7207; mhopkin@tricityherald.com; Business Beat blog at www.tricityherald.com

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