The plan to build a new Wine Science Center at Washington State University has been uncorked and is breathing. But it isn’t quite ready to be poured yet.
In June, the Washington Wine Commission pledged $7.4 million toward the project.
The Port of Benton has offered up 3.5 acres of land at the corner of George Washington Way and University Drive where it can be built.
And in July, the Richland City Council agreed to form a Public Development Authority to manage the project, including its construction.
Vicky Carwein, Washington State University Tri-Cities Chancellor, said the $23 million Center will be an “international nexus” for research and education in viticulture and enology. The three-story center will be 45,000 square feet, have vineyards, greenhouses, a gravity-flow research and teaching winery, classrooms and lecture halls, conference rooms, sensory and research laboratories and an international wine library.
Unfortunately, because the project is not on WSU’s capital project list, it can’t be built on WSU and the university can’t fund the project. Public universities in the state provide the legislature with a prioritized list of building projects. Since the Wine Science Center isn’t on the list, WSU can’t pay for any portion of construction and it can’t be built on land owned by the University.
That’s why the City of Richland and the Port of Benton have stepped in to help the project get off the ground.
“The council is very supportive of the project,” said Gary Ballew, Richland’s business and economic development manager.
The city will use the Public Development Authority is formed to fund and build the project.
The PDA is not a taxing district, Ballew said.
“It has no taxing authority whatsoever,” Ballew said. “It provides a place for private and public funds to come together.”
Ballew said the center is really an industry-led project that is seen as a top-priority. The University has a successful enology and viticulture program, but it lacks the facility to do comprehensive research that could help the industry leaders throughout the state learn
“The (Washington wine) industry said they need a research program to be a world-class research center,” Ballew.
Ballew said that although the PDA is not a taxing district, it can raise money through other ways, such as pursuing state and federal grants.
In addition, private funding is also being sought to help with the project. Carwein said nearly $1 million has been raised already through private donations and architect Terence Thornhill has donated about $100,000 worth of conceptual design services.
Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and chairman of the WSU Wine Campaign has launched the private fundraising effort. The group, which consists primarily of industry leaders, intends to raise about 70 percent of the funds through private contributions and grants that can be used as matching dollars for any state or federal funds received.
Washington is the second-largest producer of premium wine in the U.S., second only to California. And wine is one of the state’s significant export products. More than 310,000 cases of Washington wine were exported from July 2009 to June 2010, with an estimated export value of $18.5 million, according to an export survey completed by the Washington Wine Commission.
The industry supports more than 19,000 jobs across the state and payrolls totaling close to $600 million, according to the most recent data, which was collected in 2006.
The Wine Science Center at WSU Tri-Cities has been specifically designed to address the research and education needs of grape growers and winemakers, create new jobs, increase Washington’s wine exports and provide a skilled workforce for the growing industry