Port of Pasco: new development projects in works, on horizon

Over the past year, the Port of Pasco has been paving the way forward — in some cases, literally — on several new projects.

Responsible for most of Franklin County, aside from the northeastern region, which is managed by the Port of Kahlotus, the Port of Pasco owns more than 3,000 acres and expects to collect $2.1 million in taxes in 2018 at a rate of about 28 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The port’s 2018 operating expense budget totals $9.7 million, with a capital budget of $22.7 million, which includes $16 million in grants and loans to support its projects.

Supplementing its available capital, the port has been happy to observe the pay-off of incentive packages introduced two to three years ago to attract tenants to the large-scale warehousing opportunities available in the Big Pasco Industrial Park.

According to Mayra Reyna, the port’s director of properties, just in the intervening months since spring 2018, occupancy at Big Pasco has jumped from 52 percent to 82 percent with the signing of new tenants using the warehouse space to expand their businesses.

They include Tri-City Delivery, a homegrown Pasco company that does local deliveries for Amazon and Office Max; Evans Enterprises, which does storage service repairs on electric motors, including generators and wind turbine seals; and Aromatics, a Basin City-based company that processes and stores herbs such as echinacea, mint and catnip for teas and other herbal products.

“Big Pasco plays this role of being very flexible,” said Gary Ballew, director of economic development and marketing at the port. He explained how the port offers more flexible lease lengths, such as month-to-month. “That’s difficult to (find) anywhere else,” he said.

“Sometimes those month-to-months become long-term,” Reyna said.

To help spur further interest in the Big Pasco warehouses, the port has pursued a $7.5 million grant with a $1.8 million match through the state Economic Development Administration to pay for a three-year project to rebuild roads and upgrade the stormwater infrastructure in the industrial park.

In addition, the port also wants to re-side the warehouses and remove the World War II-era wooden docks and circa-1960s canopies.

“They’re really looking more like a modern warehouse and that helps. (Companies) have to bring their clients to their warehouse and so how it looks is important to them,” Ballew said.

Improvements to the Tri-Cities Airport also are underway.

The port’s director of airports, Buck Taft, said that the second phase of the east general aviation apron concrete-to-asphalt repavement project will wrap up in fall 2018, as the port looks ahead to a $10.5 million taxiway renovation project.

Taft reported the port received grants to pay for the project, which will bring the airport’s taxiways into compliance with Federal Aviation Administration standards. Once the work is completed, 7,700-foot Taxiway A will run parallel to Runway 21R-3L.

At press time, the airport’s new, fully automated baggage handling system was also almost ready to launch, pending final certification.

“We’re hoping that before Thanksgiving everything will be certified and out the door for the Thanksgiving holiday,” Taft said.

The airport’s current hybrid system requires more manpower.

“Now it’s going to be a fully-automated system. Less human interaction, less chance for error, less chance for injury and we’ll be able to screen a lot more bags per hour. It just reduces the potential of bags being left off flights … less chance of your bag missing a flight. Especially when people show up late — it will keep everything flowing,” Taft said.

Brothers Jake and Josh Musser stand in front of the new Trucks & Auto Auctions at 3135 Rickenbacker Drive in the Port of Pasco’s Tri-Cities Airport Business Center. A new $10 million, four-story Courtyard by Marriott hotel is under construction in the center. (Photo: Scott Butner Photography)

Brothers Jake and Josh Musser stand in front of the new Trucks & Auto Auctions at 3135 Rickenbacker Drive in the Port of Pasco’s Tri-Cities Airport Business Center. A new $10 million, four-story Courtyard by Marriott hotel is under construction in the center. (Photo: Scott Butner Photography)

Around the airport, development has continued with an existing port tenant’s construction of a new 12,000-square-foot, divisible building for lease and a drive-thru coffee stand under construction at the entrance of the Airport Industrial Park.

The newly-built Trucks and Auto Auctions at the Airport Business Center hosted its first auction in August 2018 and the port is working on the construction of a new aviation hangar to support the auction.

And ground is expected to be broken in fall 2018 on a new $10 million, four-story Courtyard by Marriott hotel at the corner of Argent Road and North 20th Avenue.

Progress also continues on a new hangar to house the larger plane that Battelle will use to continue its international facilitation of the Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program.

A bid was recently accepted for the project, which is expected to take about a year to complete, with the new hangar potentially coming into use by late 2019 or early 2020.

Supporters of a public market in the Tri-Cities should be glad to hear that the results of the initial scoping study were recently presented to elected officials at the port and city of Pasco and discussions concerning the next steps are underway.

Ballew hopes that regardless of which location is chosen — either downtown Pasco near the farmers market or at the port’s Marine Terminal property near the cable bridge — perhaps there may be opportunities to adapt a similar model at the site not selected.

Ballew said the port also is working with Eaty Gourmet on an upscale “food market” concept to potentially be built on the remaining 55 acres the port owns at its Osprey Pointe development, along the south side of East Ainsworth Avenue.

“It’s really a food-driven deal and it’s targeted toward wine tourism,” Ballew said. “It’s like a clustering of restaurants, similar to a food court in a mall, but instead … you have chef-driven restaurants and then interspersed in that would be actual market projects.”

With its proximity to the Columbia River waterfront, Ballew said public access to the water likely would be improved by the addition of parking and other amenities associated with the food market.

At present though, the idea is in the concept stage.

“We gave them six months and said we won’t talk to anybody else about Osprey Pointe and we will give them an exclusive look at this to see if they can pull their team together and try to make this happen,” Ballew said.

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