RICHLAND -- A wine science center at Washington State University Tri-Cities is fast moving from wine industry dream toward bricks-and-mortar reality.
Project developers aren't yet ready to turn dirt, but with a major financial commitment from the Washington State Wine Commission in June and the stamp of approval from the Richland City Council for a public development authority to oversee the project, things definitely are moving.
"This is going to happen," said WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Vicky Carwein. "I don't know exactly when, but we're a lot further along than we were a month and a half ago."
The center is intended to be a state-of-the-art research facility that will spur growth of Washington's wine industry.
Carwein and officials from the Wine Commission and Port of Benton have been working with Richland for several months to create the public development authority -- a public corporation that will manage the project and handle the money raised by the WSU Foundation.
The city council on Tuesday unanimously approved creation of the development authority as part of its consent agenda, a group of items approved with one vote and without discussion.
The development authority gives more flexibility for managing the project than if it were built solely by WSU.
As a public university, WSU has to provide a prioritized list of building projects to get money from the Legislature in the capital budget, and the wine science center isn't on the list.
That means the building can't be built on WSU land, nor can the money come from the university.
But the development authority can pursue other means of financing the estimated $23 million total cost, such as state and federal grants, to pay for the $12 milloin to $14 million cost of construction and about $8 million to $9 million needed for equipment.
The development authority is not able to levy any taxes, however.
So far, the Wine Commission has committed $7.4 million to the project over 10 years from increased assessments on wine and grape production. The industry approved the assessments back in 2007 but never took the full amount.
And the Port of Benton is providing 3.5 acres of land next to WSU Tri-Cities' north Richland campus where the center will be built.
"I think that's the thing by putting these partnerships together," Carwein said. "We wouldn't be able to do this if we didn't have that kind of support. ... That's such a high - to be part of that and making it come together and knowing if we didn't have those partners we couldn't make it happen."
Carwein said nearly $1 million already has been raised from private sources. She expects private donations to pay about two-thirds of the total cost.
With the Richland City Council's approval of the development authority's charter, the next step is to appoint a seven-member board who will manage the project. Board members will be approved by the council.
Carwein noted the board won't be directly responsible for fundraising, but rather for making sure the project gets built on time and on budget.
The development authority will dissolve once the keys to the building are turned over to WSU.
"We were obviously thrilled and very appreciative to the city for doing this," Carwein said. "They have been most generous of their support."