Our Voice: Columbia Drive proposal smart move for port, city

Big things could finally be happening to breathe new life into some tired portions of downtown Kennewick.

Today, the Kennewick City Council and the Port of Kennewick will decide the fate of a portion of Columbia Drive. If both agree to a proposed interlocal agreement to build a wine village there, it could be a game-changer for an older section of the city that has often been talked about over the years but seen little actual redevelopment.

The port has been chipping away at the area with improvement projects on Clover Island and the purchase of land that could someday be used to create attractions that would draw people downtown.

Well today is -- finally -- that day.

The city and port are actually working together to create a vision and an action plan. While there have been plenty of "visions" for revamping the bridge-to-bridge land along Columbia Drive and the waterfront, the action plans have been lacking.

Columbia Gardens could change all that. If approved today, the port and the city will each invest up to $1.3 million in the first phase of the proposed wine business park.

The port would be responsible for building improvements and new construction, and the city would invest in a wine effluent treatment plant and invest in redevelopment projects like extending the nature trail and paving projects.

The city and port would work together to find additional grant money and hire outside consultants when needed.

The project seems like a brilliant joint investment by the two entities, capitalizing on an industry that is a tourism draw and an economic driver in our community. For anyone who has visited the Port of Benton's wine park in Prosser or the Walla Walla airport's wineries and incubators, it's easy to see the potential in a project like Columbia Gardens.

Wineries have already expressed interest in the project, and the first phase could be open in two years.

It would have space for at least four wineries producing 50,000 cases per year each, as well as tasting rooms, offices, teaching vineyards, an education center and the waste water treatment plant. An existing building on Columbia Drive would be retrofitted for wine production, storage and sales, along with room for other related retail outlets like farmers markets or art outlets.

The plan is realistic and allows for down-scaling if funds run short for either the city or the port in the first phase.

It also allows for continued development, with a later phase being the Willows Wine Village along Clover Island Drive. It would feature retail downstairs and residences upstairs, as well as restaurants and space for start-up wineries to launch their businesses.

The old miniature golf course would become industrial space to support the resident wineries.

We like the plan and we like the new era of cooperation between the city and port that has gotten it to this point. Now we just need affirmative votes from the port commissioners and city council to take the kind of action that will make a big impact on the face of a weary portion of Kennewick with a world of potential.

We've been ready for a little less talk and a lot more action for a long time and today is the day. Finally.