By Kristi Pihl, March 2, 2015, Tri-City Herald
The Port of Kennewick becomes a centenarian this week.
On March 6, it will be a full 100 years since Kennewick voters approved creating a five-square-mile port district that included all of the city and a mile in each direction.
In 1915, a total of 282 out of 379 voters cast their ballots in favor of the idea.
The state’s fifth-oldest port has undergone a significant metamorphosis during its lifetime. Its boundaries and goals have expanded, now covering 485 square miles in eastern Benton County including Kennewick, Finley, West Richland, south Richland and Benton City.
The port has stayed true to its economic development roots. But its economic activities have evolved to meet new demands from the community and the market. For much of the port’s lifetime, the focus has been on transportation. But in the past decade, it has transitioned to economic development.
Kennewick residents created the port to capitalize on the possibilities created with the May 1915 opening of the Celilo Canal east of The Dalles, allowing boats to travel from Portland to the upper Columbia and Snake rivers.
Steamboats were replaced with more efficient barges and rail around 1918. The port eventually got out of the barge business because it duplicated the Port of Pasco’s efforts.
The focus was on industrial development during the 1980s and 1990s, said Tana Bader Inglima, the port’s director of governmental affairs and marketing.
Rail spurs that the port had owned since the 1950s and 1960s were sold to Kennewick Transfer, or KET, in April 2014. The port had been losing about $40,000 a year on the rail operation and determined a private company could operate it more efficiently.
And the port got out of the airport business when it decided in April 2013 to close Vista Field, a small, infrequently used general aviation facility. Port officials and community members are working on plans to redevelop the airport into a new town center.
While Vista Field has become the port’s latest and largest redevelopment project, it isn’t the first.
The port’s redevelopment effort started with the Spaulding Business Park, a 30-acre development off Columbia Park Trail in Richland. When the port bought the property in 1999, it was home only to a single-family house and a shed, as well as junk people had dumped on the property. Now it’s home to medical and office buildings. By 2012, the business park was home to about 210 jobs and had added $13 million to the tax rolls.
Tim Arntzen, the port’s executive director, said the organization seems to have found a niche in redevelopment.
It met with some resistance when it began buying land, prepping it for development and then selling it to developers. Buying and selling land creates an interesting convergent zone between the port and private-sector developers, Arntzen said.
But the port has tried to do what private developers can’t or won’t. That means buying land and investing in the infrastructure needed, such as roads and utilities. In the case of Columbia Drive, it has meant taking care of asbestos and demolishing old buildings to make way for development.
The idea of ports actually selling land seemed to be a new concept even in the 2000s, Bader Inglima said. But now, other state ports seem to be embracing the idea.
The major projects on the port’s current to-do list are all redevelopment projects, including Columbia Drive, Clover Island, Vista Field and the former Tri-City Raceway.
The port will celebrate its 100th birthday from 4 to 6 p.m. April 14 at the Tri-Cities Business & Visitor Center in Kennewick. It will be the 100th anniversary of the port’s first commission meeting on April 12, 1915.
The party will be hosted by Visit Tri-Cities, the Tri-City Development Council and the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce.
RSVP to the port’s Centennial Celebration by calling 509-586-1186 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.