Benton REA moving admin to West Richland

Benton Rural Electric Association will move its administration offices to West Richland from Prosser after closing a deal for nearly 18 acres near the former Tri-City Raceway on Dec. 20, 2021.

The electric co-op is the latest entity to embrace the raceway site, which was dormant before the Port of Kennewick sold it to West Richland in late 2020.

The city carved out space for its now-built police station, leased the raceway to the Red Mountain Events Center and launched a series of land swaps with neighbors to make better use of the parcel.

That left it with the spot behind the raceway and an eager buyer in the REA, which needs added space for its growing team and wanted to be in its fastest-growing community, West Richland.

The city will invest about $1 million to build a road – Cooperative Way – and water infrastructure to the site. The state Community Economic Revitalization Board is supporting the development with a $600,000 low-interest loan and a $200,000 grant.

The Benton County Rural County Capital Fund, funded by sales taxes, supplied an additional $200,000.

Benton REA will reimburse the city for the balance.

Troy Berglund, community relations and members services manager for Benton REA, said it hasn’t engaged a designer, so it’s too early to describe what the building will look like. It will develop the site in phases to minimize the cost to ratepayers who foot the bill for the administrative costs.

It is a badly needed move, he said.

It had 30 employees and 3,961 customer-members when it built the Prosser quarters in 1962. It grew to 55 employees and 7,856 members in 1997, when it built a satellite office in West Richland on West Van Giesen Street.

Today, it has 73 employees and 11,498 members.

“We have been evaluating what to do for four years. It is a lengthy process,” Berglund said.

Benton REA serves a territory that extends from West Richland in Benton County, west through Yakima and to White Pass, in Lewis County. It was established in the 1930s as part of the cooperative movement to electrify rural America and had no urban areas.

Today, West Richland is the only city entirely within its borders. Prosser, Benton City and Sunnyside, to name a few, expanded into its edges but are not primarily served by it.

In Prosser, it serves the commercial district at the Wine Country Road interchange, including area hotels and the Love’s Truck Stop.

The REA will remain an important part of the Prosser economy and isn’t leaving, Berglund said.

“There are people who will report to West Richland, but a lot of trucks and lineman and operations will remain in Prosser. We operate (PowerNET Internet, Computer Repair and IT) that has a lot of business in Prosser and the lower valley,” he said.

“That’s the message to Prosser. We’re not leaving. We’ll still be a part of this community.”

It will not sell its offices or property in Prosser, he added.

Port of Kennewick officials said they were thrilled to see West Richland develop the raceway property. Despite its name, the port serves areas of West Richland. The port held it for more than 11 years but did little with it as it focused on its Vista Field redevelopment and Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village, among others.

West Richland asked to buy it in 2019, after its voters approved the new police station project, prompting a search for a suitable site to put it. The sale closed in 2020.

Port commissioners said they’re pleased the city has done so much to bring life back to the formerly dormant property.

Don Barnes, now a former commissioner, said it was great to see the raceway developed.

Commissioner Skip Novakovich toured the area with the city’s new planning director.

“What they’ve done with this property to develop it is just amazing,” he said.

The future REA administration building will be accessed at the Cooperative Way and Keene Road intersection, south of West Van Giesen Street.

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