Port's plan for wine village would benefit Tri-Cities

By the Herald editorial staff

Walla Walla and Prosser have become destinations for wine tourism in recent years, and it's only partly because of the great wine.

Another thing driving folks to those areas is the concentration of wineries in one spot, giving wine tourists the chance to visit more than one tasting room with a single stop.

In the Tri-Cities, our tasting rooms and wine bars are more far flung in most cases, with exceptions of Tulip Lane in Richland and Southridge.

Both are nice, but neither is on the scale of the Prosser's Vintners Village or the winery incubators at the Walla Walla Regional Airport.

One thing those two developments have in common is that port districts made the investment in economic development, seeing the value of the economics of wine.

Now the Port of Kennewick is looking to get into the wine game, proposing to make the Tri-Cities the premier wine destination in the region with a project at Badger Mountain.

It's about time. We've long touted our appreciation for the work our region's port districts do for the economy and the community. That's their purpose, of course, but recent results in the Tri-Cities show the local port districts do more than just talk a good game when it comes to economic development.

In this case, a wine village would be one of the components in a 2,000-acre development planned on the south side of Badger Mountain. Thousands of homes in varying price ranges are proposed.

The Port of Kennewick's vision includes a public market, an incubator for small wineries and affiliated businesses, and lots of land for wineries to develop on a larger scale.

The port's director is looking for a partner in the project in the city of Richland. And while the city council seems receptive, its members did not immediately make a financial commitment.

The city already has a $3 million investment built in for the development on the back of Badger and could tap other funds for an internal loan. While no decision was made, the project likely will come up again this summer.

Richland's costs are high, but so are the potential rewards. The city would net an estimated $15.5 million in tax revenues from the Badger development over 20 years.

An additional investment in a wine park would be a prudent move for Richland and the Port of Kennewick.

With successful models already thriving in our region, a lot of the legwork on wine incubators and parks already has been done. Anyone driving past Prosser on the freeway on a weekend can see the proof at Vintners Village.

The Tri-Cities had some of the first wineries in the state, and many of the grapes used by wineries across Washington are grown right here.

It makes sense that the Tri-Cities should be an epicenter of all things wine, and it's about time we step up our game for courting those wine tourism dollars.