Wine center seeks funds from Benton

By John Trumbo, Herald staff writer June 14, 2011 

PROSSER -- A multimillion-dollar wine exhibition and culinary center being developed near Prosser has the view overlooking the Yakima River and a $2 million federal grant, but it could use $100,000 from Benton County before breaking ground on the next phase later this year, organizers say.

Scott Keller, executive director for the Port of Benton, and Marv Kinney, interim executive director for the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center, to be built on 24 acres north of Interstate 82 west of the city, asked commissioners Monday to consider making good on a promise to put $100,000 toward the matching dollars required by the federal Economic Development Administration grant.

Keller said the county agreed years ago to include the request in its capital improvement plans but has not followed through with the money.

Keller noted in a letter to commissioners that the port told the federal government that Benton County's contribution was forthcoming.

"Per your previous commitment, a $100,000 match from Benton County was included in the EDA proposal. Now that this award has been granted, we respectfully request the county's portion of the funding," he said.

Keller said the port won't call for engineering or architectural work on the next and final phase of the project until all the money needed is in the bank.

But commissioners aren't quite ready to release the money.

Commmission Chairman Leo Bowman said the board has received numerous requests for funding, which are at $10 million and growing. As a result, there won't be any decision until after a July 13 meeting when all the requests will be considered, Bowman told Keller.

The port wants to break ground a year from now on a 15,000 square-foot facility to showcase wines from throughout Washington.

Kinney said the port has already spent $150,000 to landscape the property and build parking lots. And another $600,000 from a $2 million state grant has been used to build a 2,400 square-foot events center, which features an outside arbor, fireplace, catering kitchen and restrooms.

A grand opening is set for 11 a.m. June 30.

With about $1.4 million remaining from the state grant, the port needs to raise $535,000 to match the $2 million federal grant. Most will come from private donations, the port is counting on the county to provide $100,000.

Keller said they would like a commitment for the money from the county by August.

"We won't go out for (an) engineer or architect until all the money is in the bank because it's just not smart to do otherwise," he said.

Kinney said he took on the interim executive director for the Clore Center in 2008 when the $600,000 in grants was idle and would expire in 2010.

"We needed to do something or lose them, so we set about doing the parking lot, landscaping, utilities, lighting and leveling the two (building site) pads. One was the outdoor event facility area, and the other to be the main building," he said.

The Clore Center is expected to be a destination for wine and food education, featuring a tasting room, kitchen, exhibits, teaching vineyards, gardens, classrooms and conference rooms.

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