About $110 million of hotels, apartments and villas will be built this year near Richland's Horn Rapids Golf Course, thanks to foreign investment.
Developer Stew Stone announced Thursday that the Tri-Cities Investment District received approval from the federal government for an employment benefit pilot program.
That allows foreign nationals to invest $500,000 to $1 million in projects that create U.S. jobs in exchange for preferential treatment for visas, said Stone, the CEO of the Tri-Cities Investment District.
Gary Ballew, Richland's community development services manager, told the Herald that the potential benefits for the region are huge because of how this funding method could be used for neighboring areas including the Tri-Cities Research District and Horn Rapids Industrial Park. The Horn Rapids Golf Course is in northwest Richland off Highway 240.
"There's the potential for some very good projects, but they have to be able to get financing," Ballew said. "And this just provides another avenue for them to do that."
Stone of Salem said he expects construction on the two hotels, villas and apartments to start this spring or summer.
One of the two hotels will be a custom Embassy Suites by Hilton, Stone said. The design for the four-story hotel was influenced by Northwest wineries. The 164-room structure will be about 170,000 square feet.
A large conference room will fit up to 300 people, and a full-service restaurant will serve hotel guests, as well as Horn Rapids residents, he said.
The other four-story hotel will be a franchise from a national hotel chain, but Stone said they aren't ready to announce which one yet. The 120-room hotel will be about 100,000 square feet.
A boutique vineyard will add to the wine theme of the hotels, Stone said. Some area wineries have offered to help maintain the two-acre vineyard, farm it and produce a private label for the hotels.
The 318 apartments will be similar to townhomes, with attached garages, Stone said. There will be one-story and two-story units, and the development will be less dense, with about 15 per acre.
The 135 villas will have their own recreation center, pool and management office, Stone said. The goal is to attract executives and professionals who will be working in the area for three to nine months.
"We are trying to promote a lifestyle that is different here at the golf course master plan community," Stone said.
A second access to the Horn Rapids community will be built off Highway 240 west of the current entrance, Stone said. The hotels will be near the new entrance, surrounded by golf course fairways. The villas will be directly adjacent to the new Embassy Suites. The apartments will be farther west, near Highway 240.
The golf course community projects are expected to create about 1,200 jobs in Benton and Franklin counties, including in construction, operations, manufacturing, supply and distribution, Stone said.
About half of the money for the Horn Rapids projects is coming from foreign investors, with most from India, Vietnam and China, Stone said.
Stone said he applied to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 19 months ago to receive the EB-5 regional center approval.
The Tri-Cities Investment District includes Benton and Franklin counties, but the targeted employment area for the EB-5 regional center is smaller, including the Tri-Cities Research District, Horn Rapids and some areas west of Horn Rapids, Stone said.
With the recession, developers have looked to Employment Benefit pilot program No. 5 as an alternate source of financing, Stone said. The federal government created the visa program in 1990 to stimulate economic development.
The investment is treated like a loan and will be repaid with interest five to six years after the projects are built, he said. The project also had to be approved by the government for the money.
Diahann Howard, the Port of Benton's director of economic development and governmental affairs, said their public-private partnership helped make the difference in selling this region for international investment.
The result will significantly benefit the whole Tri-City region, said Howard, who serves as the Tri-Cities Research District's executive director.