In 2013, Rodney Ryan purchased the 500-acre property once slated for The Vineyards, a proposed golf resort along Konnowac Pass, between Moxee and Wapato.
Ryan and business partner Scott Cameron planned to revive the concept crafted by the previous developers before they filed for bankruptcy in 2008. But the pair decided to shift gears after seeing research that showed declining interest in golf and golf-themed resorts. The Seattle-area developers are doing business as Vineyard Partners LLC.
Meanwhile, Bellevue-based developer Rick Peterson wanted a new approach for developing more than 300 acres that his firm, Yakima Ventures LLC, owned off Hardy Road, in the north part of Terrace Heights. In the late 1990s, Peterson received approval from Yakima County to build 700 single-family homes for a subdivision called The Highlands at Yakima Ridge, but Peterson shelved the project when he realized that there wasn’t a market for the “view homes” he thought he would build on the property.
Now in 2019, both development groups are seeking approval from Yakima County for their respective wine-themed resorts.
The two developments are different, but both seek to serve a growing wine tourism market while responding to the diverse interests of prospective visitors. Both resorts will have housing for year-round residents, part-time residents and visitors.
Each resort seeks to enhance the local wine experience for visitors and residents and generate millions of dollars in new annual economic activity.
However, given the history of past projects, both developers emphasize that nothing is a given, and have been working closely with community and business leaders to ensure the proposed resorts get the buy-in needed to move forward.
“I’m not taking anything for granted in the permit process,” Peterson said during a phone interview Wednesday.
The Vineyard Resort
In September 2008, The Vineyards broke ground with much fanfare and investors touted the project as a potential economic driver for the region. Just a few days later, news came that developers were fighting off foreclosure of the property after they failed to repay a loan to a Milwaukee-based hedge fund. Developers filed for bankruptcy by the end of the year.
In a presentation to the Sunrise Rotary Club of Yakima Wednesday, Ryan, who became a real estate investor after selling his audio and web-based conference company in the late 2000s, showed a side-by-side comparison of the old Vineyards project and the revamped development, now called The Vineyard Resort.
The 18-hole golf course, the 230 single-family homes and a 100-room hotel were out. The resort plans now have three “wine-themed villages” made up of residences and different amenities, such as retail outlets, restaurants, wine tasting facilities and an outdoor activity center, to cater to different groups, such as active retirees, millennial foodies and children.
A small inn of 10 to 15 rooms and a mix of 330 cottages, townhomes and flats are planned for visitors and residents. Rather than focus on a single activity, The Vineyard Resort revolves around multiple activities for all ages including splash pads for children, miles of hiking, cycling and equestrian for active adults and areas various sports, such as basketball and swimming.
Ryan said visitors don’t want to be locked into one-size fits all vacations. Instead, they wanted the ability to spend some time in a place — be it for a week or year-round — with different activity options as well as the opportunity to meet and build relationships with others who were also staying at the resort.
“They’re able to engage and build relationships, so they come back every year (to the resort) because they like the people they’re around,” Ryan said Wednesday during the Sunrise Rotary presentation.
Yakima Ventures project
For Peterson of Yakima Ventures LLC, his resort aims to give visitors a different way to experience the region’s wine country.
Peterson said most do it this way: Pick a hotel somewhere in the Yakima Valley. Drive from the hotel to a cluster of wineries. They then drive from winery to winery before driving back to the hotel.
Peterson said he wanted to provide a means for people to experience the region’s wineries without all the travel that came with it.
The key feature of the resort, which has yet to have an official name, is a lodge with 200 guest suites, 15 to 20 tasting rooms, a restaurant and conference space. The property would also feature areas for a variety of activities including swimming and hiking. The resort would also feature 1,110 attached-single family homes clustered in groups of two to eight units and up to 200 apartment units.
“They can experience all of (the activities and wine tastings) in one location and park their car for the weekend,” Peterson said.
John Cooper, president and CEO of Yakima Valley Tourism, said he could not comment specifically on either development, but said tourists who enjoy craft beverages, such as wine, beer and spirits, demand other amenities, such as restaurants and wellness options.
In recent years, Yakima Valley Tourism has put much of its efforts on promoting not only craft beverage entities but their ties to the region’s diverse agricultural offerings.
“You don’t have the diversity of agricultural products in other wine regions that you find here,” he said. “We’ve been farm-to-table from the very beginning.”
Cooper said there also had been a move away from single-interest resorts to places and destinations that cater to a variety of tastes and interests.
“These types of developments are tailored to lifestyles and the emerging lifestyles of not only (baby) boomers that are entering retirement but also Generation X and millennials,” he said. “To succeed they have (to consider) multiple generations and what they’re looking for.”
Both developments are looking at a multiyear build out. The Vineyard Resort will be built out over at least 15 years while the Yakima Ventures LLC resort is looking at a seven-year build-out.
The focus right now, for both, is getting approval from Yakima County.
The Vineyard Resort is further along in that process. The project went through a public hearing before the Yakima County Hearing Examiner on Feb. 21. A recommendation from the hearing examiner is expected to be released by later today.
The hearing examiner’s recommendation will go to the Yakima County commissioners, who will make the final decision.
Cameron said they hope to start work on the development about a year from now, but it’s important to make sure the project gets approved by the county and has full buy-in from the community.
“We’re trying to assimilate with the community,” Cameron said in an interview after the Sunrise Rotary presentation.
Meanwhile, the Yakima Ventures LLC resort development is awaiting a public hearing before the Yakima County Hearing Examiner.
Peterson said one key focus is making sure there’s enough road access. That hinges on the completion of the East-West Corridor, which would provide a second major arterial between the north part of Yakima and Terrace Heights. The roadway will go through the Yakima Ventures LLC development.
Until that roadway is complete, Peterson said he is limiting the number of homes that he would build during the initial phase of the project.
“We think we have the support if we do it right and we intend to do it right,” he said.