Our Voice: Wine tourism natural move for Port of Kennewick, city

Even though the Tri-Cities is the heart of wine country, we've been outdone by our neighbors.

Walla Walla and even the Yakima Valley have done a better job of getting consumer and tourist attention.

Many folks here will drive to destinations on either side of the Tri-Cities to showcase wine to visitors, whether it be at the Vintner's Village in Prosser or the quaint downtown of Walla Walla.

We have isolated pockets of greatness, including the trifecta of wineries on Tulip Lane, just off Columbia Park Trail in south Richland. But for the most part, our wine industry lacks a cohesive identity and marketing effort, something many groups are working to change.

Leading the way are the Port of Kennewick and the city of Kennewick with their wine-inspired Columbia Gardens development along Columbia Drive. The port has been working to purchase once-ragged properties in that corridor with the hopes of transforming them to a waterfront tourist destination.

A plan is now in place for the six-acre development and officials hope to have the first building ready for a winery by harvest in 2015.

The port is looking into remodeling two existing buildings in the gentrification project. One could be a home for wineries and the other an art incubator. Port officials will seek bids this fall and expect work to begin in November.

One of the keys to attracting wineries is to supply the infrastructure needed to produce their products. The city recently approved hiring a Spokane firm to start a significant element of the project, the development of a wine wastewater treatment facility.

Another important component for tourist-friendly projects like this is walk-ability. If you make it easy for people to wander between shops, sights and tasting rooms, they will linger longer and return the next time they are seeking a destination for an outing. The city has asked the Corps of Engineers if it can proceed with plans to finish a walking trail around Duffy's Pond to help provide this draw.

Many plans have been floated over the years for the area along Columbia Drive, yet our waterfront is woefully underused. Bridge to bridge concepts have come and gone but none have come to fruition.

By keying on the wine industry and tourism, the city and the port may have just hit on the formula for success. Finally.

We think it's a great use of the assets and could be a game-changer for downtown Kennewick.

A private developer also has made major changes to the landscape, demolishing a trailer park on prime property at the foot of the blue bridge. What the final plans there will be aren't yet known. The developer has been closed-mouth about the intent for the land. Whatever it becomes, we hope it is a great fit with the Columbia Gardens project.

The port has transformed Clover Island into a more inviting place in recent years. We're confident that this partnership with the city will produce even greater results and set the tone for others to follow.

With its fantastic vineyards and wineries, the Tri-Cities deserves to be at the forefront of the wine tourism industry and this may just be the launching pad to finally make that happen.