WSU Tri-Cities wine center key to industry's future

August 17, 2010 

Washington State University is looking for a way to create a modern wine science center in the Tri-Cities.

With heavy-hitters like the CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates at the helm of the fund-raising committee, the project certainly has the horsepower in place to make something happen.

One approach to building the center would be to create a Public Development Authority to direct private and public money to the facility. Supporters have already approached the Richland City Council about forming of such an entity.

Some may be leery about adding another public agency to the roster, but there's not much of a down side in this case.

Public development authorities oversee development and construction of special projects but don't have the power to levy taxes.

The Richland City Council ought to approve this request.

Venerable institutions like Seattle's Pike Place Market and the Seattle Art Museum were created using the PDA system.

WSU's goal is to build a 45,000-square-foot wine science center that would rival any other in the world. It would include a teaching winery, classrooms, gravity-flow research and a vineyard.

WSU and wine industry leaders say our school needs to catch up with the fast-growing Washington wine industry, before we get further behind. Right now, the latest research and information is often decades old.

Wine industry revenues are expected to reach $1.3 billion in 10 years. That's direct revenues. The overall economic impact of the wine industry today is estimated at $3 billion.

Although Washington runs second in wine production in the United States, we are already behind the curve with our existing educational facilities.

Fortunately, we're taking the right steps to fix the state's shortcomings. WSU has hired a premier enologist to run the department, and he has experience in designing wine research centers.

A PDA is needed to fully exploit the potential.

This is the kind of project public development authorities were made for.

We keep hearing the call for WSU Tri-Cities to become a world-class facility, and a research center like the one proposed would go a long way to speed us toward that goal.

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