RICHLAND — Ground is expected to be broken on a Wine Science Center at Washington State University Tri-Cities in late 2013, thanks to $5 million included in the state capital budget passed Wednesday.
It brings the pledged money for the project to $13.4 million, which is enough for the school to move ahead next year on the 45,000-square-foot building.
"This is a huge deal locally," said Vicky Carwein, WSU Tri-Cities chancellor.
There are expectations the center will become one of the world's top wine programs.
Washington ranks as the nation's second-largest wine-producing state, and the wine center will provide the industry with a research and education center.
Plans call for a $23.25 million center, which will include design, construction and equipment for a building with all the basics for wine production, research and education.
It will be built on 3.52 acres of land to be provided by the Port of Benton on the corner of George Washington Way and University Drive near the WSU Tri-Cities vineyard. The land would become part of the adjoining WSU Tri-Cities campus.
The state capital budget that awaits Gov. Chris Gregoire's signature includes $13.52 million for innovation partnership zones, with more than a third of that going to the Tri-Cities Research District -- an innovation partnership zone -- to be used for the Wine Science Center.
"What is really significant about this project is this is industry-driven," Carwein said.
The Washington Wine Commission has pledged $7.4 million to the project from increased assessments on wine and grape production. That will be combined with about $1 million in WSU donations to date.
The wine industry in the state developed a list of its needs in 2006, which included more research, said Diahann Howard, director of economic development for the Port of Benton.
And WSU, with the only baccalaureate and graduate programs in wine science in the state, was viewed as the logical choice for a research program. It began in 2009 with the recruitment Thomas Henick-Kling, who helped develop research and teaching wineries at the Charles Sturt University in Australia and Cornell University in New York.
He needed to be in the heart of the state's wine country to build the program, but a wine center at WSU Tri-Cities was not on the Pullman-based university's capital project list. That meant it could not be built on WSU land, nor could the money come through the university.
However, the wine industry and community has stepped up to get the center built, Carwein said.
In addition to the work by the Tri-Cities Research District and Port of Benton, the city of Richland has formed a public development authority. It's a government-owned corporation that acts as a conduit for money raised privately and by industry.
In the state Legislature, Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, and Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, led efforts to include the center in the state's capital budget.
"It's a great project not just for the Tri-Cities, but for the region," Howard said.
It will educate students, provide a work force for the industry and also answer research questions, including those specific to a climate cooler than California.
Although Washington is second in the nation in wine production, California still produces 90 percent of U.S. wine and includes the nation's leading center for viticulture research at the University of California, Davis.
The Wine Science Center in Richland will be a cooperative venture of WSU Tri-Cities and the Washington State University College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences.
At this point, wine is a $2 billion a year industry in Washington, but with a wine research center, Carwein said she expects that to double.
"This is going to put not only Washington State University and Tri-Cities on the wine map, but Washington state on the wine map," she said.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com