Tri-Cities developer Robert Young dies at 82

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 6, 2014 

A longtime developer who brought apartments and single-family homes to the Tri-Cities when they were most needed died Thursday morning.

Robert Young, 82, of San Francisco, played a critical role in the economic development of the Tri-Cities, officials said.

Young made his first investment in the area in 1959 with longtime friend and fraternity brother Dennis Davin of Kennewick. His business, Robert Young and Associates, continues to invest in the Tri-Cities under the leadership of his son Grant, who took over for his father in 2009.

"My dad loved the Tri-Cities, loved his business, loved his employees and absolutely loved doing good things for the community," Grant Young told the Herald on Thursday. "He took tremendous pride in the fact that he could take the fruits of his labor in the Tri-Cities and give back to the community. Nothing made my dad happier and more proud than watching people enjoying the Tri-Cities airshow during the boat races and knowing that he had sponsored that airshow."

Young grew up in Camas, where his father was a laborer at Crown-Zellerbach. He told the Herald in 1989 that his parents' struggle to pay their bills and raise three children made him realize that he wanted more, which meant earning a college degree. He majored in economics at Whitman College, graduating in 1955.

After serving in the Navy, Young got a job selling second mortgages in San Francisco. Then, Young and Davin invested in Richland when the federal government was selling land cheaply, buying a chunk of land for $11,500 and starting Northview Heights, which grew to about 500 homes.

"He was always a hard worker and a wheeler-dealer back then -- the guy who had the cash and would make the deal," Davin said in 2006.

Davin told the Herald that the Tri-Cities is better off because of Young.

"I've never met anybody like him in my life," he said. "He was a very personable individual, friendly and just a lot of fun."

Young married his wife, Jaqueline, in 1966, and they moved to the Tri-Cities. A year later, Young was named Home Builder of the Year by the Home Builders Association of the Tri-Cities and he built the first nongovernment, two-story office building to go up in Richland in 20 years.

While Young and Jaqueline moved back to San Francisco in 1968, he continued to invest in the Tri-Cities, building about 1,200 apartments in the 1970s.

By 1981, Young's 10 apartment complexes in Richland and Kennewick were valued at $35 million. Then disaster struck. The Tri-City economy crashed that year when the Washington Public Power Supply System halted work on four nuclear plants, putting about 10,000 local residents out of work.

He ended up selling all but one complex, Washington Square apartments, for $12 million less than their value, along with two Richland office buildings.

But his belief in the Tri-Cities never faltered. In 1989, he bought back two of his apartment complexes and 26 lots in the Willow Brook subdivision off of Keene Road in Richland.

In 2000, Young developed Tapteal Center in south Richland, where the area's first Home Depot was built.

"He's an elegant gentleman with great vision," Bill King, Richland's deputy city manager, said of Young in 2006. "His long-term commitment and faith in the community has really made a difference in the Tri-Cities today."

Gary Crutchfield, Pasco city manager, said Pasco needed someone like Young to be willing to invest in quality apartments in west Pasco. When Young first started looking at building the 252-unit Broadmoor Apartments, there wasn't much in the Road 100 area.

"His was the first major high-quality apartment complex in Pasco," Crutchfield said.

That allowed Pasco to offer that kind of rental option for new residents and helped bring other rental projects to the city, he said.

"He was clearly a leader in that part of the economy," Crutchfield said.

Young was "straight up," a good businessman to work with and "a gentleman in all respects," he said.

Robert Young and Associates grew to include 1,500 apartment units, about 80 acres of commercial land and other Tri-City real estate by 2009, according to Herald archives.

Young was a heavy investor and strong advocate for the Tri-Cities, said Kennewick Mayor Steve Young.

"He believed in the future of this region, and that made him a very important person to our community," he said.

It was Young who made sure that housing was available when the Tri-Cities experienced influxes of growth from Hanford and Energy Northwest, he said.

"He invested huge money over here without much assurance he was going to get his money back," the mayor said.

Young was someone people looked to when it came to promoting economic development in the Tri-Cities, said Milo Bauder, a Richland developer who partnered with Young on several projects.

But Young and Jaqueline also were well known for their philanthropy, supporting the Tri-Cities Water Follies, the air show, Tri-Cities Symphony, Women Helping Women and numerous other causes.

Young told the Herald in 1989 that he had a generous impulse when he heard about the Miss Tri-Cities hydroplane at the Columbia Cup.

"It was my turn to step up to the plate," Young said then. "The Tri-Cities has been very good to me. I lost my money here, but remember, here is where I made it."

And Young and his wife gave Whitman College some of its largest gifts of real estate in its history.

Young was a lead contributor to the construction of Whitman's Reid Campus Center. He also chaired his 50th reunion class's fundraising efforts, and raised about $4 million to endow professorships at the college. That gift included $3.6 million from the Youngs, the single largest personal reunion gift to the college as of 2007.

Young received an honorary doctor of public service degree from Whitman in 2006 and a President's Leadership Award for his leadership and philanthropy in 2005.

Bauder said people always knew where they stood with Young.

Bauder and Young's largest joint venture was their Southridge project, called SouthCliffe. Bauder said he and Young started buying parcels of land back in the 1970s for the single-family development.

"The results of that are just showing up now," he said.

Just this August, Bauder and Grant Young held a ground-breaking for the 400-lot subdivision and the geothermal project on Thompson Hill.

w Kristi Pihl: 582-1512;

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