George Jones has a hard time recalling what Kennewick’s Southridge area used to look like, before commercial and residential development transformed the bare ground.
Jones was on the Port of Kennewick commission when he and his fellow commissioners decided in 1994 to buy 160 acres of land along Highway 395 in what has become Southridge.
He’s one of 36 commissioners who have served during the Port of Kennewick’s 100-year history.
Jones says he didn’t know then what Southridge would become. He credits Sue Frost, who was the port’s executive director from 1979-96, for having the foresight to see the economic development possibility in the dirt and sagebrush.
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Community leaders are celebrating the port’s 100th anniversary 4 p.m. April 14 at the Tri-Cities Business & Visitor Center in Kennewick. The event is open to the public, but the port already has received the maximum number of RSVPs that can fit into the building.
Jones, a port commissioner from 1986-97, and others who worked with the port through the years are expected to help the port celebrate. Gov. Jay Inslee is among the expected speakers.
Sunday was the 100th anniversary of the port’s first official meeting, held April 12, 1915.
The Port of Kennewick was born March 6, 1915, when 282 out of 379 voters cast their ballots in favor of creating a 5-square-mile port district that included all of the city and a mile in each direction.
Its boundaries were later expanded to cover 485 square miles in eastern Benton County including Kennewick, Finley, West Richland, south Richland and Benton City.
The Port of Kennewick is the state’s fifth-oldest port, and the first to be created in Eastern Washington.
At the time, the port was a trailblazer, said Eric Johnson, executive director of the Washington Public Ports Association. No one had proposed a port east of the Cascades before.
“They opened the door for a lot of other communities to begin thinking about forming a port as well,” he said.
Ports give communities long-term control of assets and the ability to plan long-term, Johnson said.
Ports can patiently wait on properties to maximize the economic benefit to the community, including job creation and recreation.