Long-awaited Columbia Gardens opens, second phase beginning soon

Public plaza, space for food trucks to be completed this summer

Now that wine is being made and poured at Kennewick’s waterfront wine village, the community can look forward to the next ribbon cutting, as the second phase is set to get underway this summer.

A larger-than-expected crowd gathered for the Feb. 9 ribbon cutting of what’s officially called Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village, enticed by complimentary wine tastings and a chance to be one of the first to check out what Kennewick hopes to be the new Tri-City hot spot.

A supply of 300 commemorative wine glasses was quickly exhausted as officials estimated the crowd at 450 to 500 people.

The first phase of the 5.4-acre project included three buildings, streetscape, a waterfront trail, utilities and a wastewater treatment facility.

The project was more than a decade in the making and fell behind a targeted 2017 opening due to an extreme winter and initial building plans that proved difficult to execute.

With the help of some “value engineering,” the blueprints went back to the drawing board for revisions, so local contractors could use methods they’re more familiar with.

This time, the project was able to be delivered within the budget and the buildings were ready in November so that two wineries could move in.

The two new tenants are Bartholomew Winery and Palencia Wine Company, which will both will continue to operate second tasting rooms outside the area. Bartholomew opened in limited hours in December, but Palencia won’t start pouring until early March.

The second phase will feature a public plaza with picnic grounds and a spot for food trucks. Broken into two parts, the first will include more parking, sidewalks, artwork, a public plaza and a small road to connect other parcels of land that are expected to one day feature cafés, coffee shops or other private development. This portion is set to be completed by this summer.

The second part of phase two will include a 2,500-square-foot tasting room building and another parking lot. Spring 2019 is the anticipating opening, just in time to host one, or more, tasting room tenants.

A final third phase is planned to include a $10 million culinary arts center for Columbia Basin College.

The wine village at 421 E. Columbia Drive is just east of the blue bridge and west of the cable bridge near Clover Island. It’s a part of town that’s seen more new businesses in recent years, including a Bush Car Wash and Dutch Bros., alongside longtime mainstays like Hubby’s Pizza.

To prep for the wine village, the Port of Kennewick began buying up properties and demolished seven buildings a few years back to allow for the new construction. It also improved the shoreline to allow access to the Sacajawea Heritage Trail.

The city of Kennewick’s addition of a $1.5 million new wine effluent system as part of the infrastructure was a critical piece to allow winemakers to produce wine at the location. It is essentially a wastewater treatment system for wine to lower the acidity of the waste before it ends up in the city’s sewage system.

Bartholomew Winery co-owner, Chona Fawbush, said the investment being made into this new wine destination was the driving reason she and her husband, Bart Fawbush, became inaugural tenants.

“We were excited about what the port was trying to do here. They were putting money in and they were committed. Other locations in Eastern Washington didn’t have that,” she said.

The couple moved their teenage son from Seattle to the Tri-Cities last July, in anticipation of a late summer opening for the village. Despite the delays, they didn’t lose faith in the project and were excited to join the slower pace of life in Eastern Washington.

Bart Fawbush entered the wine business as an adult, sharing with the crowd the story of when he was first introduced to Washington wines.

“It was all downhill from there. I started asking questions like, ‘What is this? What am I tasting? Who made it? Where is it from? Can I meet those guys?’ I was hooked.”

Known for his unique use of varietals, Fawbush had been making wines in West Seattle, prior to moving the operation to Kennewick.

Bartholomew Winery will continue to pour wines from its tasting room in the old Rainier Brewery that featured the big red “R” alongside Interstate 5 south in Seattle, while adding this second tasting room to its offerings.

Winemaker Victor Palencia grew up in the wine business in Prosser, commercially producing wine as a high school senior, well before he was legally able to enjoy the product he was creating.

Palencia earned a winemaking degree by the time he was 20 years old and spent years commuting to Walla Walla after being “bit by the bug” and opening a winery there in 2012.

He spent more than two and a half hours each day commuting back and forth from Prosser and realized, “Home is where the heart is, and I wanted to bring some of that energy home.”

He found the Kennewick wine village to be an ideal spot to do so.

“The wine industry is such a welcoming industry,” said Palencia, who called the opening a “dream come true.”

“The support from the community members has just been a humbling experience,” he said.

Palencia plans to keep his current tasting room open at the Walla Walla Airport.

The wine village ribbon-cutting ceremony brought representatives from multiple governments in the Tri-Cities, including West Richland, Benton City, Richland and the Port of Pasco, among others.

“This project fits right into our overall goals and vision, and that includes development of our rivershores. This is just perfect for what we’ve been planning for the last 20 years,” said Kris Watkins, president and CEO of Visit Tri-Cities.

With plans to retire soon after decades as the head of tourism marketing for the region, Watkins said, “I am really, really pleased to have my last public appearance at something like this.”

The first phase of Columbia Gardens was completed with a $3.4 million contract awarded to local company, Banlin Construction.

Following a competitive bid process for the right to be a tenant, the port is charging the wineries 65 cents a square foot to lease the property.

The city of Kennewick and Benton County each committed $1 million dollars through the Benton County Rural County Capital Fund to get the second phase completed.

This is a 9/10ths of a cent sales tax collected by Benton County and spent on projects that create jobs and spur economic development. It brings in about $300,000 each year and is set to expire in 2026.

Eventually, the third phase will include roads, utilities and other infrastructure to support the culinary school and seven acres of mixed use development called, The Willows.

The entire project is valued at $13 million, when all phases are complete.

Bartholomew Winery is open noon to 5 p.m. weekends and plans to expand to five days a week soon. There is a $10 tasting fee that may be waived with the purchase of a bottle.

Palencia Wine Company, which bottles under the names Palencia Wines and Monarcha Wines, will hold a grand opening March 3 and then have regular operating hours from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays to Sundays initially.

Both wineries are expected to increase their hours as the weather warms up and people can enjoy the patio and riverfront walkways.

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