For a facility that’s been open only a year, the Reach center in Richland has quite a story to tell.
And we’re not just talking about the exhibits that tell the narrative of the Ice Age Floods and the Manhattan Project, though they are impressive.
The Reach is a place that almost wasn’t.
An interpretive center to celebrate and showcase the geography and bounty of our region was a project that was talked about for a long time.
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But for much of that time, talk was all there was. People got frustrated by delays and mismanagement.
Millions of dollars were spent with nothing to show for it, not even the beginnings of a foundation.
Potential locations were scuttled, a groundbreaking ceremony resulted in little more than the turning of some dirt with a shovel, donors pulled back funding and the project floundered.
But then an unlikely thing happened. Some people who refused to give up on the dream got together and finally made it happen.
The doors opened last July for the beautiful facility in Columbia Park on the shores of the Columbia River. The programs there exceeded our expectations, and the staff has tried creative approaches to education, outreach and entertainment.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a finer facility to rent for a special event, with its views and large open spaces. The Reach has been the site of many special occasions, including a high school prom.
The Reach celebrated its one-year anniversary with the news that it exceeded its goal for visitors in its inaugural year.
Not all the news was rosy, however.
Like every business, the first year throws a major learning curve at those who manage it.
We expected the Reach would operate in the red for a while. But the bottom line was better than we thought, even though it’s not optimal for a regular business. Public facilities operate a little differently, and sustainability takes a few years — if it happens at all.
The board and management need to work in that direction, and they know it. They have asked Executive Director Lisa Toomey to hand off her duties to other staff members in order to dedicate all her time to fundraising for the next two months.
That’s a good move. One of Toomey’s strengths is in securing money. She was able to bring large donors back on board before the center opened, and we’re confident she can find additional support.
It’s easy to become jaded when a project has a lot of starts and stops and public opinion shifts to the negative. With the fact that previous management unnecessarily spent millions, it’s easy to see why many abandoned hope that the Reach would ever come to fruition.
But the past is the past. The doors are open, and the future looks bright.