KENNEWICK -- The old, concrete pads along Columbia Drive may not look like much now, but Port of Kennewick and city of Kennewick officials see opportunity where dilapidated buildings once stood.
Officials dream of a Columbia Drive featuring a wine village and a mix of residential, shopping and entertainment that draws Tri-Citians and tourists to the waterfront.
That development hasn't happened -- yet.
In the past six years, the port has bought about 16 of the 28 acres on the north side of Columbia Drive between the cable bridge and Clover Island Drive as part of its efforts to inspire redevelopment.
The port has been in the process of readying the almost 16 acres it owns by removing unusable buildings and cleaning up the properties. Most recently, port maintenance staff removed nine of the former Chieftain Apartments after the Tri-City Regional SWAT team practiced blowing open doors on the units.
The port has invested about $5.2 million in capital expenses for the revitalization of Columbia Drive, according to port documents.
Revitalization is not cheap, said Tim Arntzen, the port's executive director. And if the port didn't spearhead revitalization efforts, Columbia Drive wouldn't see the kind of progress that is possible now, he said.
"Revitalization is a 20-year process," he said.
If everything fits together well, Port commissioner President Skip Novakovich said he wouldn't be surprised to see some major development along Columbia Drive as early as the next few years.
"I think Columbia Drive is prime," he said. "There are just a few pieces that have to come together."
The port now owns three different contiguous pieces along Columbia Drive, including the 6.7-acre former Willows Trailer Park along Clover Island Drive, a 5.9 acre chunk in the middle of Columbia Drive that used to be the home of Beaver Furniture and the Chieftain Apartments, and 3.2 acres just west of the cable bridge that used to be Cable Green's Mini Golf.
Concrete pads are visible in the grass where the trailer park once stood. Today, it looks more like a park.
Three buildings from the Chieftain Apartments still need to be demolished. Two need asbestos abatement, said Tana Bader Inglima, the port's director of governmental affairs and marketing. One was built around an electrical pole.
Using port staff and Coyote Ridge Corrections Center work crews to demolish and clean up most of the apartments saved the port about $23,000, according to port documents.
Novakovich said the port wants to create a walking, pedestrian-friendly area that feels like a main street.
Gary Hansen of Kennewick's Pixelsoft Films presented a vision for Columbia Drive to port commissioners recently that included a space for a year-round farmers market, wineries and tasting rooms and other businesses, such as a coffee shop.
The buildings would be orientated toward the river, instead of Columbia Drive, he told commissioners. And there would be an opportunity for open-air seating on the second floors with a view of the river.
The port is hiring architect Gary Black from the University of California, Berkeley, who has helped with Columbia Drive planning efforts, to develop a wine village plan for part of the port's property, Novakovich said. The port is looking into what infrastructure would be needed to attract wine-related businesses, including a possible winery effluent treatment plant with the city of Kennewick.
And the port has seen some interest from wine-related industry, Novakovich said.
Kennewick Mayor Steve Young and Kennewick City Manager Marie Mosley visited Berkeley with port officials to meet with Black and visit a development similar to what the port proposes.
Young said what he saw in Berkley opened his eyes to the potential of what could happen for Columbia Drive with the right vision and businesses for the area.
Young said he'd like to see places in the wine village where people can taste different wines at the same time. It could become a place where people can enjoy events like music in the park and shop, he said.
Young said he wants to see an area develop that will attract tourists as well as those who want to live near the river in condos and mixed-use buildings.
Young said he can see Columbia Drive becoming part of an enlarged downtown area.
Columbia Drive was once the main thoroughfare of Kennewick, Young said. What is now referred to as downtown was one street over.
Kennewick used to have residential and industrial together in that area, Novakovich said.
Once the dikes went up, the community turned its back on an important asset -- the waterfront, Novakovich said.
Now, he said, "we've got a waterfront area that's very valuable."
The port's property on Columbia Drive is all along the waterfront, bordering Duffy's Pond, which stretches almost the whole way between Clover Island Drive and the cable bridge.
"It was one of the Tri-Cities' best kept secrets," said Bader Inglima.
On one day this week, a blue heron and ducks were visible around Duffy's Pond. Bader Inglima said she also has seen an American white pelican, mink and migratory water fowl using the pond created when the Army Corps of Engineers put in the levee.
The port is working with the city on code enforcement, finishing a path around Duffy's Pond, and planning how to zone Columbia Drive to encourage compatible businesses and open spaces, Novakovich said.
The city has installed a path around part of Duffy's Pond. The city does plan to finish the trail, Young said.
The port has done a tremendous amount of work in the last few years to clean up Columbia Drive, said Novakovich.
"A lot of the less desirable stuff is gone," he said.
And the community has come together to help improve Columbia Drive, said Larry Peterson, the port's director of planning and development. For example, volunteers during Sharefest have helped spruce up Duffy's Pond. And the Corps pulled old, rusty vehicles from the water.
"There is a huge transformation that has already taking place," Novakovich said.