A private developer is moving forward with plans to create a retail hub at University and Stevens drives in Richland's Tri-Cities Research District.
Rick Parsons, general manager of Innovation Center at TCRD, told Port of Benton commissioners Wednesday that the company is getting ready to start two buildings and is working on attracting a gas station and convenience store.
The retail development is part of $25 million the company may invest in the research district this year. Other possible projects include an apartment complex and an office building.
The port sold the nine-acre property to Innovation Center at TCRD last May so the company could develop University Square, said Diahann Howard, the port's director of economic development and governmental affairs.
The company recently applied for building permits for two 4,500 square-feet buildings on the property, each to cost about $1 million, Parsons said. Construction is scheduled to start in August.
Both buildings will be built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards and will be similar in quality to the other building Innovation at TCRD has already completed in the research district, Parsons said.
The company has already invested about $2.2 million in infrastructure for the University Square property, Parsons said.
Parsons said the company is still working on attracting tenants to the area, including Gesa Credit Union.
Parsons said having a gas station and convenience store on Stevens Drive will generate traffic for the rest of the area. The company is talking with two companies to try to get a gas station to open there, he said.
"It's been a harder sell than we imagined, to be honest," he said.
Parsons said his company also had keen interest from local businesses who would like to expand.
The company is asking for a modification to the purchase and sale agreement with the port, Parsons said. It would prefer to sell part of the property for a gas station and be able to transfer part of the property within its owners group.
Innovation Center at TCRD is owned by investors Wayne Perry and Cal Cannon, former executives of McCaw Cellular Communications, which became part of AT&T Wireless. Parsons said second-generation Perrys and Cannons are getting involved.
Howard, who serves as the Tri-Cities Research District's executive director, said the company would like to put more stringent covenants on the University Square property that include setbacks and landscaping.
Port commissioners will need to sign off on the changes and will consider both at its August meeting.
The research district, which was formed in the early '90s by community stakeholders, encompasses about 1,700 acres, including adjacent properties owned by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Washington State University Tri-Cities and the Port of Benton.
The research district is one of 11 innovation partnership zones in the state. Its goal is to attract research and development jobs to support all of the Tri-Cities.