Benton County handed out its first check after resurrecting a sales tax-generated economic development program: $2.1 million toward the Port of Kennewick’s urban wine village project on Columbia Drive.
It was a joint award going to the port and city of Kennewick.
The grant will be used for the second phase of the 5.4-acre $13 million Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village development for the parking lot, street work, utilities/storm drains, lights, area for food trucks and waterfront gathering space, and converting the rest of that site into “shovel ready” land for sale or lease.
Grant dollars also will go toward the riverfront development’s third phase, which includes roads, utilities, storm drains, lights to support Columbia Basin College’s future $10 million Culinary Arts Institute and a seven-acre mixed-use commercial development called The Willows.
The wine village project is estimated to create 121 new jobs, according to the port and city’s application.
Palencia Wine Co. of Walla Walla and Bartholomew Winery of Seattle will be the first tenants at Columbia Gardens. They both plan to move their winery headquarters to Kennewick and open tasting rooms facing the river and riverfront walking trail.
The county’s Rural County Capital Fund is over $10 million, fed by a sales tax collected by the county and earmarked for economic development, job creation and tax revenue in the county.
The .09 of 1 percent tax generates about $300,000 in sales tax revenue for Benton County each month. The tax sunsets in 2026.
The county’s grant program doesn’t come with a lot of red tape or competitive judging and matching dollars aren’t required. There’s no deadline to apply either.
“I think it’s pretty special and a great opportunity in our world to fund public facilities that’s easy to come by,” said Adam Fyall, sustainable development coordinator for the county.
The proposals made to the county are evaluated based on whether they meet state law and county policy.
Fyall said the money is a great “fill-in” for big-ticket projects needing a financial boost.
“If you need a half a million, you can come to our well to find it,” he said.
Fyall called the port’s project a great one to lead off with. “They had the right kind of project. It’s thorough, it covered all bases… it’s a good project just in its own right,” he said.
Other city and port officials have already got in line for their share of the money.
The Port of Benton requested $1.4 million for its Vintner Village project in Prosser.
Benton City asked for $512,000 to put toward a lift station in Kiona to spur development on the south side of Interstate 82.
The city of West Richland has a preliminary request in to fund its Municipal Services Building. The city plans to eventually relocate its city offices from Van Giesen Street to its new complex on Belmont Boulevard. A formal proposal has not yet been submitted to the county.
Richland and Prosser have not yet submitted applications.
Benton County intends to put its portion toward new roads: Adair Road, for a new 1.1-mile section connecting to Christensen Road south of Interstate 82 in Kennewick, and Belmont Road, for a 1.2-mile section to connect to Kennedy Road to the south in West Richland.
The money is awarded based on the cities’ population, which is why the program was launched in the first place. It’s intended to give an injection of money to rural counties with a population density of less than 100 people per square mile, or a county smaller than 225 square miles. Benton County qualified when the tax was implemented though it has since grown to 103 people per square mile.
The county dispersed $2.1 million for 11 projects between 1998 and 2002.
After that, the county dedicated tax dollars from 2001 to 2016 to pay off the debt for the Benton County jail.
The county policy was revised last year after enough revenue was collected to satisfy the jail’s bonded debt, Fyall said. The state allowed Benton County to use the money for the jail bond but changed parameters later so other counties couldn’t.
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