PROSSER — Construction has started on the long-awaited Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center.

After more than a decade of starts and stops, construction crews have begun digging up pipes for preliminary ground work for the nonprofit wine and food educational facility to overlook the Yakima River in Prosser.

“It’s pretty exciting to see some shovels out there and see some 6-foot deep holes,” said Bob Stevens, the president of the Clore Center board of directors. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Stevens and his fellow organizers plan to use the $4 million facility to both support and showcase the state’s wine and agricultural industries. The building will host tastings, educational displays, trade shows, conferences, cooking classes and banquets

They hope to open for business by the end of October.

Organizers anticipate eventually attracting 45,000 visitors a year, an annual budget of about $1 million and seven full-time employees.

Last week, construction crews began digging holes to expose and verify the location of water and sewer pipes, said Ray Gabbard, project superintendent with general contractor Burke Construction Group of Spokane. Crews plan to start digging the foundation this week.

The Clore Center was named for the Walter Clore, a vineyard researcher at Washington State University’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser often called the father of Washington wine.

But it already has had a rocky history.

Several times proponents have scaled back designs and shifted fundraising goals to reflect the economy. At the height of their struggles, backers held a March 2006 groundbreaking, only to abandon the work when they learned an anticipated state capital budget contribution had not been secured.

After regrouping, the organization built the Vineyard Pavilion, a smaller dining venue on the 24-acre property along Wine Country Road, and began holding banquets and weddings in 2011.

With a mixture of state, federal and private contributions, backers have raised a total of $4.5 million, which covers the $3 million construction of the new building and the Vineyard Pavilion. They are still raising money, saying they need about $800,000 more to furnish the building, set up exhibits and kick off operations until banquets, weddings and conference revenue begins to pay the bills, said Kathy Corliss, the Clore Center administration director.

This time, the group will wait until March 15 — after a couple of months of work — to toast construction with a ceremony, said Stevens, a retired director of Washington State University’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser.

“We’re really excited,” Stevens said.

• Ross Courtney can be reached at 509-930-8798 or rcourtney@yakimaherald.com.