Our Voice: Robert Young helped build the Tri-Cities

Longtime residents of the Tri-Cities recognize the name Robert Young with ease.

The San Francisco real estate developer saw the potential here long before most. It is not an overstatement to say that without Young's investment and long-term commitment, the Tri-Cities would not be what it is today. He was critical to the economic development of our region.

Though Young died earlier this month -- at age 82 -- his influence here will be felt in perpetuity.

Young started investing in the community in 1959 with a fraternity brother. The two men turned $11,500 into the 500-home development that is Northview Heights in Richland.

Young lived here for a brief time in the 1960s, and built the first nongovernment, two-story office building in Richland in 20 years. He soon moved back to San Francisco but never let the Tri-Cities out of his sights, building 1,200 apartments in the 1970s.

Things were booming for Young, who owned 10 apartment complexes valued at $35 million in the Tri-Cities. But 1981 brought our economy to a standstill when the Washington Public Power Supply System put 10,000 people out of work with its decision to stop work on four nuclear plants.

Young ended up selling nearly all of his apartment buildings and for less than their value. His office buildings too. That would have been enough to sour most investors on the community.

But not Young. Slowly, but surely, he bought back some of his apartment complexes, as well as some lots in the Willowbrook Heights subdivision in Richland. He then developed the Tapteal Center in south Richland. He started buying parcels of land in the Southridge area with a partner decades before development began there. In August 2013, Young's son -- who now heads the business -- had a ground-breaking with a partner on a 400-lot subdivision on Thompson Hill.

While Young had faith in the Tri-Cities and a keen business sense, what he really had was vision. He knew what the community needed before it did. When he built the 252-unit Broadmoor Apartments at Road 100, there wasn't much else around. And they were really nice new apartments, something Pasco hadn't seen in a while, and perfect for new residents.

Robert Young was a master at "branding" before it became a hip marketing term. His complexes use a tagline that brands an apartment building as "another fine Robert Young community." That brand instills confidence in the quality of the property and the management of it.

Young is remembered for his business acumen but also for other enviable traits like personable, friendly, hard-working and elegant -- terms not always associated with a high-powered businessman.

He is also remembered for his generosity. Young and his wife, Jaqueline, have given much to the community.

As Young once said of his long-time support of the Water Follies, "It was my turn to step up to the plate. The Tri-Cities has been very good to me. I lost my money here, but remember, here is where I made it."

His son said nothing made Young more proud than watching people enjoy the air show he made possible.

The Youngs also gave back to Robert's alma mater, Whitman College, with some of the school's largest real estate gifts ever.

His fund-raising efforts for the college helped bring in $4 million to endow professorships. Of that total, $3.6 million was a gift from the Youngs.

Leading economic development is a risky venture, and our community has benefitted greatly from Robert Young's ability to foretell its future needs. The next generation now leads the charge and seems just as committed to the Tri-Cities.

We send our condolences to the Young family along with our appreciation for all they have done and continue to do here.