Port of Benton: New projects taking shape in PNNL’s neighborhood

By Andrew Kirk

Port of Benton property not far from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is changing hands as plans are hatched to develop industrial flex space in north Richland.

The Port of Benton manages 2,756 acres in the north, central and west side of Benton County, including 50 buildings on 12 sites, 16 miles of short-rail line, one barge slip and one high dock. These properties add up to nearly $90 million in assets.

The port’s 2019 budget was $12.3 million to fulfill its mission of promoting economic development in Richland, Prosser, Benton City and surrounding areas of Benton County.

So far this year, the port has been extremely busy in north Richland, selling properties near Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

A sale for $804,000 is pending for 5.27 acres in north Richland to Summerlin Desert LLC, said Diahann Howard, interim executive director for the port.

The property is near Stevens Drive and Curie Street. Summerlin Desert has asked to develop the land into industrial flex space with storage units in back. Similar projects recently were completed near Burden Boulevard in Pasco and elsewhere in Tri-Cities with great success.

“Industrial flex space is sought in north Richland by people wanting to develop new technologies or scale them up. It is important to have that to offer in north Richland,” Howard said.

The port also sold 7.25 acres at 2920 George Washington Way to David, Mark and Nathan Croskrey. The brothers have worked with the port since 1993 to build 15 buildings at or near the Richland Airport. They recently secured land and two 40,000-square-foot, two-story buildings, which the Croskreys are renovating into office and light industrial space for about $1 million.

“Those were quite honestly buildings the port was going to demolish. The private sector stepped up to renovate those buildings,” Howard said.

The brothers felt smaller spaces suitable for a laboratory or a shop would be popular in that neighborhood.

“We had a vision for developing some smaller startup space to be near the research park,” Nathan said.

Scientists at PNNL often develop great technology but need help finding a company to utilize or produce it, he said. They envision tenants with an energy or passion to use their space to make this transition possible.

The brothers hope to lease or sell the renovated buildings to fund a full development of the remaining acreage. They already have one tenant signed.

“They’ve turned out really nice,” Nathan said. “Our tenant said they’ve had a difficult time finding space like this, so they’re real happy to work with us.”

New owners renovating at 2920 George Washington Way in Richland. (Photo by Shawna Dinh)

One idea for the remaining acreage in front of the two buildings that has Nathan excited is a 60,000- to 80,000-square-foot sports facility with courts and a gym. He thinks the PNNL, Washington State University Tri-Cities and Horn Rapids communities would appreciate the proximity of this type of business, but he will allow market demand to decide.

“Providing people space will bring the users. It’s what we’ve done in the past and it’s always worked. Economy good or bad, we just keep plugging away. If space is available, people use it,” he said.

The port also sold a $2.5 million building and 5.1 acres to SIGN Fracture Care International, a nonprofit providing surgical devices and training to doctors around the world so better orthopedic treatment can be provided in developing countries.

The 38,000-square-foot building is at 451 Hill St., off George Washington Way. The company employs nearly 50 people manufacturing the implants that nearly 5,000 doctors have used in more than 50 countries.

SIGN has been able to lease some of its space to printing services company Digital Image Tri-Cities Inc.

A significant effort is underway to transition property from Hanford to the port to be readied for development and community use.

Land owned by the federal government usually has significant restrictions, such as requirements to report all leases and uses every year. When agencies hand over those rights to the port, it is a major benefit for the area, Howard said.

“The biggest impact to our budget (so far in 2019) was the buy-out of deed restrictions on 72 acres of property for $3 million known as the Richland Innovation Center,” she said.

The expenditure was a huge move for the port, but private companies already are interested in the lots, Howard said.

Formerly the Hanford 3000 Area, this land was overseen by the U.S. Maritime Administration. Now under the port’s control, it opens up development for flex-industrial space.

Another city-port endeavor near Horn Rapids attracted Preferred Freezer, Lamb Weston and Packaging Corporation of America and was deemed a success.

Kitty-corner to PNNL along Stevens Boulevard, 1,341 acres also recently were transferred from the U.S. Department of Energy to the city of Richland and the port. By working together, both agencies hope to attract businesses to the area focused on clean energy, bioscience and energy storage, or other firms hoping to work in coordination with PNNL.

“This is a significant opportunity as a job creator for the entire Tri-Cities region,” Howard said.

The close proximity of the acreage to PNNL, WSU Tri-Cities, Hanford, an airport, rail lines, a highway and Columbia River dock means the lots will be attractive to companies.

Mandy Wallner, marketing specialist in Richland’s economic development office, said she’s looking forward to seeing the master plan for the land. It would be ideal for large-scale operations like a distribution center or manufacturing plant. The master plan will piggyback on that of the nearby Tri-Cities Research District.

It would be exciting to see technology created at PNNL—like improved battery storage—embraced by a business needing that innovation, or willing to create a new product with it, to be housed in one of the new lots, Wallner said.

“PNNL is forthright to share what they’re working on. So we look at existing companies, then maybe growing our own companies, then come up with marketing plans,” Wallner said. “They’re not recruitment efforts that happen overnight, but is more a long-term culmination. The Port of Benton is a great partner for us to have in north Richland working on the common cause of technology innovation and economic development.”

Because the port has the ability to buy buildings and also rent them out, it can function as a sort of business incubator in a way the city cannot, Wallner said.

The port’s efforts also extend west to Prosser and Vintner’s Village.

The winery-focused development was home to 13 existing wineries when the port’s new building was completed in 2019, bringing in new tenants Domanico Cellars and Wautoma Springs. Neighbor’s BBQ and the Prosser Economic Development Association are leasing the remaining spaces. The port wants to sell the rest of the land to developers.

“We’re looking for complementary uses to go along with the wineries already there. It’s a nice cluster effect,” Howard said.

Vintner’s Village has had a significant impact on Prosser tourism, she said, and the port would love to see a hotel or other businesses to help the development become a destination location similar to Woodinville. Just 30 minutes from Tri-Cities, and 49 miles to Yakima, the village is a great place to shop wine “close to the farmer,” which is a proven draw, Howard said.

Michael Hicks, owner of Neighbor’s BBQ, said he chose Vintner’s Village because he liked the overall look of the building.

“It’s a cool new space and we hope to be the beginning of new growth in the village. We would love to see other businesses that locally make their products. I think there are people teetering on going into business full time with their hand-crafted items and the port is a great partner to do that with,” he said.

The port supported the expansion of Chukar Cherries in Prosser, which was completed in 2019. The business has been leasing from the port for 30 years. The 12,000-square-foot expansion cost $1.8 million and allows more space for manufacturing and production, as well as offices for the distribution department.

Supporting the growth of small businesses is part of the port’s mission. In 2018, it helped bring a Subway sandwich franchise to Benton City’s downtown area. Efforts continued in 2019 by supporting Fuse SPC Tri-Cities’ plan to create an equity fund. Fuse is a social purpose corporation for startups and business incubation. The port receives grants it passes on to Fuse participants. The first recipients of the new fund could be named in fall 2020.

“We’re looking forward to our future and working in collaboration with all our partners,” Howard said. “The port is helping companies both large and small and doing that on both ends of the spectrum to create a more diverse economy.”

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