Speakers: ‘Balkanization’ holding Tri-Cities back

A lack of community vision, too much in-fighting and a need for more water are among the hurdles the Tri-Cities must tackle to flourish.

The tendency for “Balkanization” or uncooperative divisions among the communities will stifle progress as entities fight to secure something for themselves, said speakers Friday at the monthly meeting of The Badger Club.

A backer of a proposed public market in Richland, the former CEO of a major state winery and a Tri-City port director urged Tri-City agencies to develop a broader vision so that the entire community can benefit from something, whether it’s a stronger wine industry or a performing arts center.

The potential is tremendous, they said.

Michael Tormanen said he and his partners wanted 40 businesses to support the idea of a public market in central Richland before taking it to city officials. They got 80.

Allen Shoup, former CEO of Ste. Michelle Estates winery said he sees the possibility for exponential growth of Mid-Columbia wine production and wine-related tourism in the next 30 years.

And Tim Arntzen, executive director of the Port of Kennewick, talked about the port’s projects in Kennewick and West Richland to revitalize and build up local businesses and industries.

But those efforts, and others, face challenges.

“I came here in 1996 and was impressed at how people segregated themselves based on which high school they went to,” said Arntzen. “The Port of Kennewick is ready to deal with some of these issues but we can’t play this game with nine different jurisdictions.”

The port’s redevelopment of Vista Field into an urban core and the Tri-City Raceway into a center of support for the wine industry and the transformation of a portion of Columbia Drive into a wine village have the possibility of bringing a new energy to the Tri-Cities, Arntzen said.

He acknowledged that the port’s plans will lead to change and that often leads to resistance even though people say they want to see something different.

Some Badger Club members questioned some of the port’s plans, specifically Vista Field and issues of accessibility and affordability of housing.

“Is this village just going to be for the convenience of its own residents?” asked Matt Taylor, noting a lack of parking in initial designs.

“You’re not going to see the gigantic football field-sized lots,” Arntzen responded, adding there would be on-street parking and small lots behind buildings.

In Richland, Tormanen and his partners also hope to revitalize an area by developing a public market, modeled after a similar space in Wenatchee or Pike Place in Seattle, and highlight the diversity and creativity of the area.

“As I was growing up I didn’t feel like I was connected to that like I wanted to be,” he said.

And Shoup said the wine industry is far from reaching its potential.

“Acre for acre we have better land here and lots of it,” he said.

But how do we support the wine industry?

“Fight for water. There are vineyards that would be planted (in the region) if we had water,” he said.

“This could be a beautiful part of America if people buy into it,” Shoup said.