Editorials

Our Voice: Harsh winter doesn’t cool excitement for Columbia Gardens

The buildings for the Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village in downtown Kennewick are taking shape. The site will soon be home to two wineries. This week the project received $2.2 million in rural development money from Benton County.
The buildings for the Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village in downtown Kennewick are taking shape. The site will soon be home to two wineries. This week the project received $2.2 million in rural development money from Benton County. Tri-City Herald

It sure is nice to cruise down Columbia Drive and see progress.

The buildings for the Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village have quickly taken shape this spring despite a brutal winter that put the project behind schedule.

And this week the site that will soon be home to two wineries got a welcome influx of cash with an award of $2.2 million from Benton County. The money comes from the Rural Capital Fund, which is subsidized by the 0.09 sales tax rebate provided to local governments for economic development.

The city of Kennewick and the Port of Kennewick asked the county for $1.1 million for Columbia Gardens and both received the funding. The economic development hope that is pinned on the project is that the wineries will draw tourists and locals to a once blighted area near the shores of the Columbia River.

Columbia Gardens is in the heart of the area once referred to as “bridge-to-bridge and river-to-railroad” because of its physical borders. Plans for the area have started and then stalled many times over about 20 years. Columbia Gardens is the first concrete — or cinder block, in this case — evidence we’ve seen of new life in a very long time.

The port started working toward riverfront redevelopment in the area with land purchases, beginning with the Willows Trailer Park in 2007. Of the 28 acres in the area, the port now controls 16, making it the majority landowner and the catalyst for gentrification along the waterfront.

Money from the Rural Capital Fund will be divided between the project’s two phases, with half going to the wine village and the remainder to the Willows, a culinary center proposed by Columbia Basin College. The college is hoping to raise $10 million over four years for the project it wants to build near Duffy’s Pond.

The port expects to have the buildings ready for its two winery tenants in the village by the end of August. That makes it too late for the wineries to handle this year’s harvest on-site and has caused some angst for those businesses.

But anyone who has been involved with a construction project of any scale knows delays are part of the game. And no one could have predicted the type of winter we had — one that set everything on a delayed schedule from asparagus harvest to the wine village.

We hope Bartholomew Winery and Palencia Winery have solid backup plans in place, and that the port treats the tenants fairly with the unexpected delay in occupancy. The port was adamant in the application process for the village occupants that they must handle wine production on-site, not just operate a tasting room.

Now they’ll be asking tenants to do the opposite this year with the delayed opening, which surely will add costs for the wineries willing to gamble on the future of Columbia Gardens.

It’s worth the drive downtown to see the impressive buildings. The groundbreaking was just a year ago. The infrastructure is in place and, even in their rough form, the buildings give a great glimpse as to what lies ahead.

As a member of the port’s staff said last year, “We think we can start tipping the neighborhood.”

And, even at this early stage, it is clear that they have. We can’t wait to see what it looks like in August.

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