Clore Center on track to open in '13

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldApril 15, 2012 

PROSSER -- The doors of a long-awaited interpretive center that will tell the tale of the state's wine industry may open in Prosser during summer 2013.

Plans for the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center have started and stalled during the past decade, but officials say enough momentum has been built up to finish the $6.3 million project they hope will draw visitors to the Yakima Valley and the Tri-Cities to learn more about Washington wines.

The nonprofit Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center's board, which includes wine industry members and supporters, has hired ALSC Architects of Spokane to design the $4 million wine and interpretive center that represents the third and final phase of the project.

Construction may start this fall, with the goal of opening the 15,000-square-foot center late summer 2013.

The project gained momentum about three years ago after the Port of Benton took a more active role in the effort, and the port and the nonprofit's board secured a $2 million federal grant.

Scott Keller, the port's executive director, said the port had been involved since it bought land for the center about nine years ago.

Back then, the estimated cost to build the Clore Center with its initial amenities was $10 million. However, the parcel near the Yakima River stood vacant for about five to six years, and plans for the center were scaled back.

Three years ago, Keller asked Marv Kinney, the port's director of special projects, to help the volunteer board move the project forward.

"Something needed to get going," Keller said.

At that point, the nonprofit's volunteer board already had a $2 million special appropriation from the state and $600,000 in grants from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Kinney said.

Deb Heintz, vice president of the nonprofit's board, said the group became concerned the state might erase the $2 million allocation because none had been used and the economy was beginning to slump.

That's why the project was divided into three phases. The HUD grants paid for infrastructure, parking and landscaping at 2140 Wine Country Road, Kinney said. Last summer, the 2,500-square-foot Vineyard Pavilion was completed by using $600,000 from the state allocation.

The Vineyard Pavilion was not part of the original vision, said Heintz, who also is the economic director of Prosser Economic Development Association. But the group decided the smaller, separate building could ease the opening of the center and increase revenue because more events could occur at the same time.

Bob Stevens, president of the nonprofit's board, said the Clore Center will be able to stage as many as four events simultaneously, such as a wedding, classes and demonstrations and wine tasting.

"It's good for people to see that you've got something solid on the ground and are moving forward," said Stevens, who retired as director of Washington State University's Irrigated Agricultural Research & Extension Center in Prosser.

Less than a year after the Vineyard Pavilion's grand opening, Heintz said nine weddings have been booked for this summer.

The volunteer board has raised enough money to build the interpretive center. But Heintz said the group needs about $800,000 more to finish the interior.

The $2 million federal Economic Development Administration grant and $1.4 million from the state allocation will help pay for the interpretive center, Kinney said.

While the design isn't complete, Heintz said the board knows what it wants the center to offer. A wine tasting bar will provide space where nearly all of the state's wineries -- not just the 35 wineries in the Prosser area -- can have at least one wine available to sampled.

There will be a retail area featuring regional foods and products, an auditorium that may accommodate about 300, flexible classroom space, a conference room, a demonstration kitchen that can feed about 55, demonstration gardens and an outdoor patio.

Kris Watkins, president and CEO of the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau, said the Clore Center will contribute to the growth opportunities she sees for the state's wine industry, which include the new Wine Science Center to be built at Washington State University Tri-Cities with well-known wineries just a short drive away.

More visitors translate to more money spent in the region, which means growth for local businesses and more jobs, Watkins said.

With the Prosser Wine & Food Park and Vintners Village nearby, the center also may help lure investors who see regional support for agritourism and wine-related tourism, said Diahann Howard, the port's director of economic development and governmental affairs.

The center also will help tell the story of research scientist Walter Clore, viewed by many in the industry as the father of Washington wine. Clore, who died in 2003, worked at the Prosser Irrigated Agriculture Research & Extension Center and showed that wine grapes would be a viable crop in the Columbia Valley.

After the center is complete, the nonprofit's board will manage the center under an agreement with the Port of Benton, which owns the property and will own the center, Keller said. The nonprofit will fund operations.

While the project has taken about a decade to get to this point, Heintz said quality takes time.

And the partnership with the Port of Benton has been critical to transform the interpretive center idea to a reality, Heintz said.

"It's been a long road, but it's been worthwhile," Heintz said.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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