Hood River Port launches revised waterfront plan

Hood River Port Commissioners were urged not to succumb to "paralysis by analysis" at the Nov. 27 unveiling of a revised waterfront schematic.

That suggestion posed by resident Ken Woodrich brought laughter from audience members and officials alike -- who agreed that there had been too many failed planning efforts in recent port history.

The general consensus at the special meeting was that the time had come for action. To underscore that belief, the joint session also included a quorum of the Hood River City Council, which will enact zoning regulations from the riverside jetty known as the Hook east to the Hood River.

"The port's goal continues to be quality mixed-use development at the waterfront," said Dave Harlan, port director.

He said the overall challenge facing the public entity is how it can capitalize on less than 20 acres of developable properties and still generate enough revenue to landscape and maintain open space areas. According to Harlan, almost 42 acres of waterfront property has already been dedicated for recreation and pedestrian use. In addition, he said several more acres would be deducted from the remaining holdings to create a park on Lot 6, a shoreline parcel.

"One of the big questions that remains unanswered is 'who's going to pay for the park?'" asked Harlan.

Another key issue being addressed by the port is the uncertain future of the Expo Center, a convention facility that underwent a $1 million renovation in 1996, and has still not increased its marketability. Harlan said last year the port spent $74,653 in operating expenses but generated only $17,199 of income, a loss of $57,454.

Port officials are not booking engagements at the Expo Center after Dec. 31, 2002, by which time they will determine its fate. The options before the elected body include converting the building for industrial use, spending more advertising dollars to draw users, mothballing the structure or demolishing it altogether.

At the Nov. 27 meeting, resident Linda Maddox urged port officials not to "throw good money after bad" by making the Expo Center the centerpiece of the new waterfront master plan.

"You've got to think broadly, if we can think of another use, great, but if we can't, don't save it -- it's just not worth it," she said.

Hood River County Commissioner Carol York suggested from the audience that the port shift its proposed central roadway to allow travel directly from the Second Street Overpass to the waterfront. In current sketches, the port has nixed the broad diagonal boulevard proposed by the Leland Consulting Team and redrawn a less dramatic "gateway" that no longer crosses private property or splits buildable parcels. York said moving the road to the east would allow smaller business to buy the narrower parcels and create an attractive entrance to the waterfront.

"It would really connect downtown to the waterfront," she said.

In order to act on York's proposal, the port would have to buy about one acre of property, at the base of the Second Street off-ramp, currently owned by Bob Barman of Lake Oswego. Harlan said a tentative probe had been made in that direction, a move supported by Mayor Paul Cummings.

"To me, it would be quite a prize for the port to get that property," he said.

However, Harlan said the Oregon Department of Transportation had already moved the access from the suggested location in the past because trucks were having trouble with the steepness of the ramp and it might take too much of the port's developable land base to reduce that incline.

Residents Dave Riley and Andy Von Flotow also urged the port not to build the roadway until it had landed a developer for one of the adjacent parcels to ensure it would meet that company's transportation needs. Both Riley and Von Flotow said that if the port first invested several thousand dollars to landscape and develop "green swaths" it would increase community support and make the waterfront more marketable.

"There are 100 alternative roads but there is only one waterfront," said Von Flotow.

Harlan said for about $1.5 million the port could build the roadway, landscape much of the open space and develop pedestrian trails -- $5 million less than proposed by Leland consultants, hired last year to develop mixed-use conceptual drawings.

Although the "bold, innovative" work of the Portland-based firm was well received publicly, it would have cost more than $12 million dollars to make it a reality. For example, Harlan said that Leland proposed placement of 160 park benches on one of the five zones depicted in its sketches -- for a price tag of $320,000. Unhappy with Leland's failure to tie better cost estimates to aesthetics, the port withheld $15,000 from the final payment for services and hired Carl Perron, a Hood River architect, to help find a more practical alternative.

"We've basically been working on a reality check -- what's do-able," said Harlan.

At the conclusion of Tuesday's meeting, Bill Lyons, port president, told those in attendance that the port would be going back to the drawing board to render its final design plan. He said that work would complement the development of zoning regulations that had been undertaken with the assistance of city officials and staffers.

"This is a work in process, no firm decisions have been made," he said.

However, both port and city officials said they are determined to work together with the Hood River community to get the waterfront master plan wrapped up so that improvements can begin.

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