KENNEWICK -- A preliminary vision of Clover Island prepared for the Port of Kennewick would develop the site as a tribute to the region's maritime heritage and feature a moored sternwheeler.
Port officials have toyed with the vision for more than a year now, so far adding an arched gateway, a lighthouse and public art to the 16-acre Kennewick island. But under a plan prepared for the port by architect Chris Herath, that's just a start.
The biggest feature would be casino-style riverboat, as well as several new buildings on the 1.25 acres between the port building and yacht club.
The vision is to make the island a world-class waterfront destination, said Tim Arntzen, port executive director. It could be an enduring symbol of the Tri-Cities' maritime heritage on the Columbia River, he said.
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The riverboat could add about 20,000 square feet -- at a cost of about $100 a square foot -- to the island, Arntzen said. It could be a place for concerts, meetings, weddings and receptions.
Arntzen has been checking out riverboats and sharing ideas with Herath, who earlier designed the port's new office, yacht club building and the lighthouse.
Herath last week showed port officials a conceptual design for what he called Mariners Village. It featured three small mixed-use buildings, a water feature, an outdoor fireplace and a glass-covered patio with misters, all connected by a pathway to create a village-like feel, Herath said.
Positive feedback from some community members present at Tuesday's meeting prompted port commissioners to ask Arntzen to further develop the concept. He would seek community input and explore the financial feasibility of the project.
Port Commissioner Skip Novakovich said the riverboat would be a good economic engine for the island.
"The development may not occur if the port doesn't take the initiative," he said, referring to the current credit squeeze. He said the vision could even help revitalize downtown Kennewick.
"I would like to applaud the port's vision," said Kathy Blasdel, a Kennewick resident with experience in tourism development. Convention organizers would be excited about the riverboat as a possible new meeting space, she said.
Arntzen said the port will hire a marine engineering firm to consult on the project and initiate the permit process for the boat, adding he doesn't plan to spend more than $7,500.
Starting the permit process doesn't mean the riverboat project is a done deal, Arntzen said. Permitting would be a long process and require federal, state and local authorities to sign off on the project, he said.
Arntzen said the port possibly could fund the riverboat project with bonds and use rental proceeds to repay them. The port wouldn't have to raise its property tax levy rate, he said.
Arntzen said he's seen at least three retired casino boats that would be suitable. Changes in gambling regulations that allowed building casinos on the land in the Midwest made many of those sternwheelers lose their utility as floating casinos, he said.
The original boats that cost $20 million to $25 million to build are available for $2 million or less, said Arntzen, who recently looked at two boats in Iowa and Illinois. He said the boat on Clover Island would not be used for gambling operations.
Arntzen said he expects part of Mariners Village would be funded by private money once the port kick-starts the project. Private buildings could be a mix of retail and condo development, he said.
Commissioners agreed they would need cost estimates before moving ahead with the plans.
Meanwhile, the port soon will start its $750,000 Clover Island shoreline improvement project to remove concrete from the island edges and restore the riverbank with rocks and native vegetation.
For more information about the plans or to share comments, call Arntzen at 586-1186.
-- Pratik Joshi: 509-582-1541; pjoshi@ tricityherald.com; Business Beat blog at www.tricityherald.com