Wheat center targets tourists

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Educational facility aims to attract passing families

By MATTHEW WEAVER

Capital Press

RITZVILLE, Wash. -- Planners here are moving ahead on a 20-acre tourist attraction devoted to wheat.

The Ritzville Public Development Authority gave the go-ahead Feb. 15 to a wheat interpretive center, said Kris Robbins, clerk-treasurer for Ritzville.

Robbins is also the liaison between the city and the Ritzville Public Development Authority.

The interpretive center would be built close to Interstate 90, where 10,000 to 16,000 cars pass every day. Capturing even a small percentage of that traffic would make a huge difference in educating people about wheat and improving Ritzville's economy, said Janetta McCoy, associate professor of Washington State University's Interdisciplinary Design Institute in Spokane.

Students at the institute designed the concept for the center.

"We got as many people as we could in a room and said, 'So, what is it about wheat that would make people want to stop?'" McCoy said.

The center is designed to be educational, so that people understand where wheat comes from and how it affects them, but also lively and dynamic.

"(It gives) children a reason to say to Mommy and Daddy, 'Let's stop in Ritzville and do this thing!'" McCoy said. "There are a lot of ways people consume wheat, and a lot of ways children and adult can interact with that concept and have some fun."

The center would include multiple buildings, outdoor and indoor activities and farm equipment displays and be surrounded by wheat fields, McCoy said. Proposed ideas include a children's gardening center to plant wheat seeds, a wheat maze and an interactive farming museum.

"They would get exposure to not just the end-product, but the process of growing wheat across the seasons," she said. "There's value in people being educated and understanding what they're eating."

The next step is to develop a business plan for the project, estimated to cost $6 million, Robbins said.

A feasibility study funded by the state's Community Economic Revitalization Board determined wheat-related businesses like a flour mill, noodle production, bakery or brewery could locate successfully at the center.

McCoy believes there's value in the concept, both financially and as an educational tool to inspire consumers to learn where their food comes from.

"As a grown-up, I was fascinated to learn about wheat," she said. "I had no idea, and yet I've lived here in the Palouse for a long, long time."

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