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Voters create Port of Kennewick on March 6, 1915 to provide docks for Columbia River steamboats.
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On March 6, 1915, voters create Port of Kennewick to provide docks for Columbia River steamboats. The vote passes by a majority of 185 votes and creates a five-square-mile taxing district, which includes the town of Kennewick and "all property lying a mile in each direction" ("Kennewick Port Created"). The original purpose is to improve steamboat docks at the town's harbor and to build and maintain public warehouses. Eventually the Port of Kennewick will grow into a large and diversified entity that will encompass a marina, an airport, shipbuilding facilities, food-processing plants, chemical plants, and many industrial and commercial development sites. It will become a driving force in the regional economy.
At the Beginning, Record Shipments
Creation of the Port was spearheaded by the Kennewick Commercial Club, which was hoping to take advantage of the opening of the Celilo Canal downstream near The Dalles. Local business people hoped this would increase cargo traffic and cement Kennewick's position at the head of navigation on the Columbia.
Less than three months later, they were proven correct. By summer of 1915, record shipments of both cargo and passengers were leaving and arriving at Kennewick's docks. One of the Port's first acts was to authorize the building of a new warehouse to handle the record volumes. By 1916, the Port constructed a new wharf, at what is now the Ivy Street Terminal site, to handle cargo and passengers.
But the steamboat era on the Columbia was already winding down -- finished off by railroads and barges -- and would end by about 1918. For the next few years, the Port concentrated on building rail-and-water transfer facilities and warehouses. A massive flood in 1926 wiped out many of these facilities, causing the Port to go into a prolonged period of inactivity that lasted through the Great Depression. The Port had no full-time employees.
War Years in Kennewick
That all changed in the 1940s, when tens of thousands of people poured into the Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Richland and Pasco) for vast wartime projects, including the Hanford Project. With Kennewick's cheap electricity and easy water and rail transport, the town was an attractive site for all kinds of industry.
The Port came alive again. In 1941 the Port built a huge new dock "jutting out over the Columbia River some 396 feet," along with a bulk grain conveyor and elevator ("Kennewick Dock"). It also began purchasing real estate for industrial operations.
In 1946, the Port made a key purchase: Clover Island, a low stretch of land in the middle of the Columbia between Kennewick and Pasco. Columbia Marine Shipyards signed a lease with the Port for a barge-building site. The Port also established a marina.
The Expansive Fifties
In the early 1950s, the Port built a new grain elevator at the Ivy Street Terminal and built a complex rail infrastructure to serve its various sites.
In 1953, Clover Island was expanded to 12 acres and was connected to the mainland by a 700-foot-long causeway. A huge Allied Chemical Corporation plant was built in the Port's Hedges Industrial Area, producing nitric acid for Hanford and other products. This was the first of a number of chemical plants in the Port district.
In the pivotal year of 1954, the Port Commission and Kennewick business groups decided that the Port district should be expanded to include some "prime riverfront industrial sites" from Richland to just below Plymouth for deep-water terminals and industrial use.
By this time, port districts were seen throughout the state as more than just transportation districts -- they were seen as key engines of economic development. So in 1954, the Port proposed a ballot measure to vastly expand the Port District of Kennewick far beyond Kennewick, to encompass West Richland, Island View, Plymouth, Finley, and Hover. This 483-square-mile area covered roughly the eastern half of Benton County, including the part of Richland located south of the Yakima River. It stretched along 49 miles of Columbia River shoreline, from the mouth of the Yakima River downstream to Plymouth, across from Umatilla, Oregon.
The ballot measure passed in November 1954 by a whopping three-to-one vote. The Port hired a manager, John F. Neuman, to lay immediate plans for acquiring and developing new industrial sites. A Comprehensive Plan with sites in Kennewick, Hedges, Finley, Hover, and Plymouth was drawn up and adopted, with improvements totaling $1.5 million.
These efforts began to pay off almost immediately when the Port landed a massive $15 million ammonia plant run by Philips Chemical Co., with 125 employees. Other chemical plants would soon follow, including in 1957 the Kerley Chemical Corp., producing agricultural fertilizers on the Port's Hover site, and in 1958 the California Chemical Corp.'s Ortho division, producing plant food and fertilizers on the Hedges site. That was a huge $5.5 million plant.
Clover Island continued to attract new development, including the Metz Marina and boat dock, a clubhouse for the Clover Island Yacht Club, and a $350,000 U.S. Coast Guard Station, staffed by 13 servicemen.
Close Markets, Natural Advantages, and Luck
Neuman told reporters in 1961 that the Port's success relied on a little luck, along with a talent for selling Kennewick's natural advantages.
"We are blessed with having markets close for the products manufactured here, especially agricultural chemicals that serve the Columbia Basin, Yakima Valley and the Big Bend areas," said Neuman. "We have an abundance of water, needed in most of these operations, plus waterfront sites with deep water for barging operations" (Lemon).
He said that the Port industries employed 313 new workers and supplied about $210,000 in tax revenues for Benton County.
The Port continued to develop its industrial sites in the 1960s and also played an important role assisting the Atomic Energy Commission in managing the takeover by private industry of the Hanford operations.
In 1964, the Oregon-Portland Cement Company took over the Port's Ivy Street Terminal and built a large bulk cement distribution terminal.
As of 1967, the Port of Kennewick owned a total of 760 acres at seven sites: Clover Island, Ivy Street Terminal, Gum Street Agricultural-Industrial Site, Hedges Industrial Site, Finley Industrial Site, Hover Industrial Site, and the Plymouth Industrial Site. It also owned over a mile of railroad spur track and a barge dock at Hedges.
A Vision of Development
In the 1970s, the Port's emphasis moved toward development of road and railway infrastructure to serve the many industries on its sites.
In 1981, Port manager Sue Watkins explained why a port district could develop projects that would be difficult, if not impossible, for private developers:
"Is there a private developer out there who would do what we're doing -- buy property, go through the zone change hassles, reserve it for 10 years for industrial use -- all the time waiting for XYZ corporation to come along and buy or lease it?" she asked a reporter ("Booming Tri-Cities").
Taking to the Air
In 1991, the Port purchased Vista Field, a community-service general aviation airport in Kennewick, which encompasses a number of aviation businesses. In the past and up to the present there has been controversy over whether or not the airport should be continued. According to the Port's website, the City of Kennewick has requested that the Port explore alternatives for the airport. It was originally developed during World War II as a municipal airport, then transferred to the military for national use during the war, then transferred back to the City of Kennewick, which sold it to the Port. It has a 4,000-by-50-foot runway.
An advocacy organization, Friends of Vista Field, notes that Vista Field is unique in that it is walking distance from many industrial facilities, shops, hotels, and restaurants. It is a civilian-use airport, used by businesses, law enforcement, medical, flight training, and for recreational flying. It is one of 18 Washington airports used by UPS. It is also the airport used by agriculture and as a pilot-training airport for civilian pilots. It also relieves pressure from the busy commercial airport of Tri-Cities/Pasco.
Port of Kennewick Today
Through the 1990s and 2000s, the Port of Kennewick turned its attention to building incubator facilities for new businesses, recruiting entrepreneurial businesses, and creating partnerships with other organizations. A Tri-Ports organization was formed along with the Port of Benton and the Port of Pasco.
As of 2010, the Port of Kennewick was developing its Clover Island site far beyond its industrial roots. It revitalized the Clover Island Marina and built a new retail-office building, which includes the Ice Harbor Brewing Company restaurant and craft brewer.
One of the Port's goals is to bring greater environmental stewardship to the Columbia River. On Clover Island, the Port is implementing a Shoreline Improvements plan, and in 2010 dedicated a a new Gateway and Lighthouse Plaza and a new public art installation, The Family Group by Cheney artist Richard Warrington. This is part of an ongoing project to bring new recreation, business and tourism to Clover Island. "Enhancing public places along the waterfront is part of the Port's vision for Clover Island," said Larry Peterson, the Port's director of planning and development (Trumbo).
The Port also acquired waterfront property on Columbia Drive as part of an ambitious plan to revitalize waterfront areas near downtown Kennewick.
The Port still owns and manages many industrial sites and still retains its original goals of providing support and infrastructure for marine traffic and other transport. Yet it also develops medical and professional office space at its recently developed Spaulding Business Park.
The Port also moved into one of the biggest growth industries in the region: the wine industry. It recently purchased 92 acres near the Red Mountain wine appellation in order to convert an old raceway into a wine-related commercial hub.
The Port, according to a statement on its website, now "seeks to be a catalyst for recreation, tourism and quality of life" (Port of Kennewick website).
History of the Port of Kennewick, mimeographed document in the files of the Washington Public Ports Association, Olympia; "Kennewick Port Created," The Spokesman-Review, March 8, 1915, p. 7; "Kennewick River Business Grows," Ibid., June 3, 1915, p. 10; "Kennewick Dock Nearing Finish, Ibid., June 17, 1941, p. 7; John L. Lemon, "Kennewick Port Draws Industry," Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 8, 1961, p. 3; Larry Young, "Port Districts Can Bridge Gap Between Public, Private Sector," The Spokesman-Review, January 18, 1981, p. A-17; "Booming Tri-Cities Taking Aim at Spokane's Top Spot," The Spokesman-Review, March 15, 1981, p. 1; Port of Kennewick website accessed April 29, 2010 (http://www.portofkennewick.org/); 2010 Washington Ports Directory, a publication of the Washington Public Ports Association, Olympia; "A Short History of Vista Field As We Know It," Friends of Vista Field website accessed April 30, 2010 (www.vistafield.org); John Trumbo, "Port Proposes Shade Structure for Clover Island," Tri-City Herald, March 22, 2010.
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