Thousands of visitors have passed through the new Reach center in Richland since it opened in July.
They’ve perused the exhibits, admired the artwork and displays, shopped in the store, attended educational forums and taken in concerts and performances in the outdoor theater overlooking the Columbia River.
Now, as the hybrid museum, interpretive center and performing arts venue enters its fifth month, leaders are taking steps to add another feature — one aimed at enhancing the visitor experience. It’s also meant to further the Reach’s mission of education and cement the center as a gathering place in the Tri-Cities.
They plan to transform the Reach’s 10,000-square-foot unfinished basement into EAT@the Reach — or Enterprise for Agriculture Training.
Visitors will be able to stop there for a bite to eat from a stocked deli case, and there will be space for vendors to set up. A commercial kitchen will offer learning opportunities, with classes and demonstrations envisioned. And EAT@the Reach is to feature a new exhibit exploring themes of food, water and climate change.
“We’re trying to — like with the main floor — create a menu of experiences,” said Lisa Toomey, Reach CEO.
The space is to be a showcase for goods produced in the Columbia Basin.
The idea is that vendors will lease spots, creating a year-round public market — the kind envisioned as part of the community rebranding initiative unveiled earlier this year.
Officials picture a coffee cart, wine cart and other moveable and permanent carts and stalls with fresh food, specialty foods, and arts and crafts. They see possibilities for events from workshops and wine and product tastings to food demonstrations and cooking classes, “Meet the Farmers” opportunities, chef tables and nutrition and healthy eating training.
Seasonal fruit and vegetable stands could be set up on the patio in warmer weather, and vendor carts could be rolled outside when crowds converge for performances in the outdoor theater.
Terence Thornhill, the Reach center’s Pasco-based architect, has created some preliminary conceptual drawings.
The project will involve area high school and college students. The idea is that they’ll help with everything from design to marketing.
The price tag for the project is estimated at $2.7 million, to be paid for through fundraising and grants.
“We’re hoping, depending on how the financing goes, to really get this under way in the next year,” Toomey said.
Paul Santillie, co-owner of Pasta Mama’s, a gourmet pasta and sauce company in Richland, said he could see his products fitting there. “I think it finishes off what they started with the rest of the Reach. It shows how we got here, what we created and now some of the products that came out of here,” he said.
Steve Simmons, part of the Richland Public Facilities District board, which oversees the Reach center, said he’s excited about the opportunity to tell agriculture-, climate- and resource-related stories in the space. “We’re approaching the point there aren’t enough resources to produce the food we need to feed the word. Agriculture research is important. Water is going to be hugely important. I’m looking at it as an opportunity to tell some stories I think are hugely important,” Simmons said.
The EAT@the Reach space “will be fun; it’s got to be fun. But I also really want to tell the story of agriculture and how it is we’re going to take care of all these people and how important Washington state is going to be in this process,” he told the Herald.
The Reach center opened in July after years of dreaming and planning, and tells stories of the region’s history, land and people.
Its 14,000-square-foot main level includes two galleries. Gallery 1 has an exhibit on the Hanford Reach National Monument and surrounding land through time, from the Ice Age Floods to the Hanford nuclear project. Gallery 2 focuses on the Manhattan Project and the Hanford site’s early days.
Officials originally envisioned a bigger facility, but the Reach project faced challenges and eventually moved forward with a scaled-back plan — and the idea that the center would be expanded in the future.
The vision for the next five to seven years includes adding 5,000 square feet to Gallery 2 to tell more of the Hanford site story, and add a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education lab and exhibit and curation space for the Coyote Canyon mammoth dig.
Toomey said operations costs for the center are higher than anticipated, and the public facilities district board has been adjusting cash flow and is refinancing the building to reduce interest, which is expected to save about $500,000.
But the number of visitors has bested projections. Through October, the Reach center logged 14,322 admissions.
It also had 536 memberships, welcomed 21 student groups with a total of 970 pupils and saw 1,795 people attend functions through 21 facility rentals.
Toomey said officials want every visitor to have a memorable experience — and come back again. They’re starting to see that happen.
“I think we’re off to a good start — a really good start,” Toomey said. “I think people are beginning to realize what an asset this building really is to the community.”