Public-private partnership right move for wine center

April 6, 2011 

We like the kind of thinking that's going on in Richland.

Washington State University is anxious to build a wine science center for its Viticulture and Enology program at the school's Tri-City campus.

But given the woeful condition of the economy, the $23 million project doesn't stand a chance of getting state funding anytime soon.

Even if the wine science center eventually receives the support it needs from the state's capital projects budget, the facility likely wouldn't be completed for another eight to 10 years.

Proponents of the project are wise to try another path. We can't afford to fall further behind competitors in the national and international wine industry.

The time is now. WSU has staff, researchers and students ready to get in the game. Waiting is no longer an option if Washington wants to take its rightful place in the worldwide wine industry.

So the city of Richland, WSU-Tri-Cities and others have entered into discussions about a partnership to build the center. The likely form would be a public development authority, comparable to a public version of a limited liability corporation.

The city would form the organization, which wouldn't have any taxing authority. Its entire purpose would be to build the wine and science center. Once the project is complete, the entity goes away.

In the words of the Port of Benton's economic development director, "It's born to die."

The public development authority would help jump-start the process of finding public and private money to build the center, including applying for state and federal grants. City staff would do the initial work, and a board appointed by the city council would eventually take over.

For its part, WSU Tri-Cities is committed to raising money for equipment and some of the construction, according to Chancellor Vicky Carwein. She expects that 70 percent of the cost will come through private donations via the WSU Foundation.

"There is an expectation there are at least a handful of seven-figure gifts out there," she said. That sounds very promising. The news ought to help the Richland City Council decide in favor of forming the public development authority.

Similar public development authorities were used to build and develop Pike Place Market and the Seattle Art Museum, so successful examples exist.

Once the wine science center is complete, the PDA would be dissolved and the assets transferred to WSU.

The charter bylaws call for a board of seven to 15 members of the authority and start-up costs are estimated at $10,000.

This is just the kind of public-private partnership that makes sense. WSU avoids the interminable and unpredictable process of applying for money from the state capital budget, and Richland helps raise money -- without raising taxes -- for a project that's sure to be a significant community asset.

More information is available on Richland's website: tinyurl.com/PDA-Option.

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