Port of Benton to break ground on $2 million development in Prosser

The Port of Benton plans to kick-start a new 21-lot development with a $2 million building in Prosser designed to attract boutique businesses to complement the neighboring Vintner Village.

Construction on the new building, which will include three bays for businesses, as well as an adjacent office building for a nonprofit, is expected to begin in mid-May.

The port’s popular Vintner Village development already is home to a number of wineries just south of Interstate 82, including Martinez & Martinez Winery and Willow Crest Winery, as well as Yellow Rose Nursery.

Tourists can enjoy walking paths and stay at a 1900s farmhouse that’s been restored as a bed and breakfast.

“Tourism is huge in Prosser,” said Port of Benton Director Scott Keller. “They get thousands of (tourists). People come over from Seattle. They want to get out of the rain.”

More than 50,000 people visit the area’s wineries and attend local events annually, according to the Prosser Economic Development Association, or PEDA.

The 32-acre Vintner Village has been successful and the development “went like a ball of fire,” Keller said. “We ran out of land, so we bought the land to the south of it.”

Along with the $2 million the port invested in roads and infrastructure for Vintner Village, private investments from businesses totaled between $30 million and $40 million, Keller said.

The port bought the 25 acres to the south of the development for $1.2 million and invested another $1.5 million in infrastructure, and for the past three to four years has been working to sell the lots in Vintner Village II.

However, commercial lending has tightened since the financial crisis and growth stalled.

“We’ve got 15 lots that we’ve been trying to move, but things have slowed down a little bit,” Keller said. “We think once we build or start building there, it will be like Vintner Village.”

Instead of waiting for businesses to build their own places in Vintner Village II, the port is creating a $2 million home for them to spur growth. Each of the bays in the new building will feature 500 square feet of office/retail space and another 2,000 square feet for manufacturing and storage.

“What’s really cool is the entire infrastructure is built in. Walking paths between the lots, nice street lamps. It’s all set up for boutique operations,” Keller said. “Water, sewer and electrical is all set in. Even the irrigation.”

The incubator bays won’t be exclusively for wineries, Keller said, though the port has “learned from past experience to put in floor drains. … We have one winery and a start-up brewery ready to (get started).”

Although Keller can’t elaborate on details yet because no contracts have been signed, he said the port has already received several calls since announcing its plans.

“We’ve had several wineries that want to expand to this area, and they want a tasting room here,” he said.

Jason Archibald of ALD Architects in Richland designed the building, which will feature high ceilings and possibly a large garage door out back, Keller said. The exterior will be metal but will fit in well with the look of the surrounding businesses.

The port plans to put the project out for bid within the next month.

Along with the three bays, an adjacent building on the west end will add another 1,500 square feet of space and be used by PEDA. The association currently operates out of the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center building on Wine Country Road.

PEDA works to recruit new business, retain existing business and promote the economic welfare in the greater Prosser area. Major public funding partners include the city of Prosser, Port of Benton and Benton County.

To help attract companies to the new development, Keller said they’ll price the bays with a lower rate for small businesses trying to expand or start up. Established companies will receive the existing business market rate, which has not been confirmed yet.

Once businesses grow, Keller said the hope is the will build their own facility in the 22 remaining acres in the development, which will allow a new company to move into the vacated bay. Keller said he’d eventually like to see restaurants, specialty food retail stores, or any business that could complement the wine industry — such as a barrel manufacturing — move into the area.

With construction set to begin this spring, the building likely will not be complete until the end of the year.

Businesses interested in learning more about Vintner Village II can contact the Port of Benton at 509-375-3060 or info@portofbenton.com.

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