Governor, Tri-Citians celebrate Port of Kennewick’s 100 years

About 200 Tri-Citians and Gov. Jay Inslee raised glasses of champagne and cider Tuesday to celebrate the Port of Kennewick’s 100th birthday.

While Tri-City leaders highlighted parts of the port’s past, they also emphasized the importance of current port projects to the region’s future.

“It is my hope that the work we are doing now will leave a solid foundation for prosperity to come,” said port Commission President Don Barnes.

So many people packed into the Tri-Cities Business & Visitor Center that some had to stand in the entryway and couldn’t make it into the conference room for the event.

The Port of Kennewick was created March 6, 1915, when 282 out of 379 voters cast their ballots in favor of creating a 5-square-mile port district that included all of the city and a mile in each direction. The port is the state’s fifth-oldest and the first in Eastern Washington.

In 1915, Seattle had about 240,000 residents, near today’s population of the Tri-Cities, Barnes said. Kennewick had about 500.

The early mission focused on river-based transportation, but that has evolved into a multifaceted economic development mission, he said.

Like the mission, the port’s boundaries also expanded to cover 485 square miles in eastern Benton County including Kennewick, Finley, West Richland, south Richland and Benton City.

Numerous port projects and partnerships during the last 100 years have contributed to the economic success of the Tri-Cities, said Kennewick Mayor Steve Young. Most recently, the port and city have seen the commercial and residential development of Southridge take off.

“Our success continues to attract attention from around the state,” Young said.

The port helped bring Pacific Rim Winemakers to West Richland’s Red Mountain Center, said West Richland Mayor Brent Gerry. And the redevelopment of the former Tri-City Raceway into a wine-related development will help West Richland draw in more needed commercial development to better diversify the bedroom community.

Other past successes include bringing fertilizer companies to what became known as Chemical Row in Finley and providing incubator space for businesses in the port’s Oak Street Industrial Park.

Clover Island, Southridge and Richland’s Spaulding Business Park likely would look much different if the port had not bought property and reserved it for development, said Carl Adrian, Tri-City Development Council president and CEO.

Gary Burke, chairman of Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation board, congratulated the port on 100 years of community service with particular pride, because the lands included in the port’s boundaries are part of the historic homeland of the tribes.

The port and tribes have worked during the last decade to build a working relationship to benefit the interests of both parties, Burke said. The port and the tribes also have a formal agreement.

Gov. Jay Inslee said the work the port is doing with Clover Island, Spaulding Business Park and Vista Field shows what local communities can do through port districts.

Inslee optimistically spoke about the possibility of a funded transportation package during this legislative session. He emphasized how important it is for continued economic development to see money for projects such as a Highway 395 intersection at Ridgeline Drive, the proposed Duportail Street bridge, the Lewis Street overpass and a Red Mountain interchange on Interstate 82.

Also in town from Olympia for the anniversary celebration was Hank Thietje, the port’s second manager, who started out assisting John Neuman, the port’s first manager, before filling his position when Neuman retired.

When Thietje came from Olympia to work for the port in December 1972, Benton County as a whole was trying to figure out what to do with the state’s newly approved Shoreline Management Act. The port, county and other local agencies worked together to come up with a comprehensive plan for shoreline management. It was the first approved by the state and was one that other counties used as a model, Thietje said.

The shoreline is something the port continues to focus on now, working with the Army Corps of Engineers on a plan to improve Clover Island’s shoreline for fish habitat and recreation.

Adrian said the port is in the early stages of a number of projects that could have a profound impact on the Tri-Cities, including the redevelopment of the former Tri-City Raceway, creating a boutique wine village on Columbia Drive and redeveloping the former Vista Field Airport.

“I believe this celebration is really about the next 100 years at the port,” he said.

As for the vibrant, mixed-use town center envisioned for Vista Field, Adrian said, “I think the entire Tri-City community believes the port's vision can’t happen quickly enough.”

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