Center Parkway extension highlights long-term thinking

Kennewick and Richland leaders gathered in the September sunshine to celebrate the start of what should have been a simple street project when they first conceived it back in 2001: connecting Center Parkway across a set of railroad tracks to link the two cities near Columbia Center mall.

It only took 22 years to sort out the legal challenges associated with the railroad tracks, but the project is finally a reality. Crews have demolished the old Mail by the Mall building that stood in its path and carved a road through a barren area behind the mall that’s surrounded by development.

To say it took perseverance to bring the project to fruition is an understatement.

But it serves as a handy reminder that even when the economy seems a bit shaky, investing in the future requires a steady, long-term vision. Connecting Gage Boulevard and Tapteal Drive made sense in 2001. It makes even more sense today.

The Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business takes its annual deep dive into all things real estate and construction in our 64-page Focus magazine, inserted into this month’s edition. We found lots of examples of long-term investing in the Tri-Cities.

Public entitles are building roads and utilities and schools. Homebuilders have slowed down, but not halted their work. The local population has grown to 312,000 people and newcomers need places to live. Rising rents and home prices signal a chronic shortage.

Long-term thinking was on display when Amazon Inc. invested in its future in the form of two massive distribution centers in east Pasco.

Reser’s Fine Foods invested in its future in the form of a new food processing plant in Pasco, which it dedicated in September.

Darigold Inc. is investing in its future via a $600 million state-of-the art milk-processing plant. The Seattle dairy cooperative broke ground in September.

Pasco voters chose to invest in their future in April, when they approved a modest sales tax increase to build a $40 million aquatics center. The project got a boost this summer when the effort hired the city’s former mayor, Matt Watkins, to shepherd it through to reality. He wants to open it by October 2024.

Local voters will get another chance to plan for the long term on Valentine’s Day, which is when the Pasco and Richland school districts will put bonds to build more high schools and other facilities on the ballots.

Setting clear goals to chart a course for the years ahead, along with the steps needed to achieve them, will continue to serve the Tri-Cities well, as it did more than two decades ago when the idea for the Center Parkway extension first took shape.

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