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New project starts on Oak St.

June 15

Ten months from Monday, the Oak Street parking lot that straddles the Carousel Museum and Kerrits Activewear will have transfomed into a 32,000 square foot mixed-use building, housing four retail shops, 15 condominiums and a fountain-studded public plaza on the east end.

“It's all modern,” said Smart Development partner Henry Fischer. “Ten-foot-high ceilings, a covered, underground garage.”

By next April, Smart Development partners Henry Fischer and Randy Orzeck expect to have sold the 13 condos and two penthouses and leased all four retail spaces. All 15 condos, which will range in price from roughly $200,000 for a one-bedroom to $400,000 for a three-bedroom, will be available for sale this summer.

“If you think about it, our population is growing,” Fischer said. “People are moving here for the lifestyle. But where do you put them?”

Fischer and Orzeck are banking on Hood River's population growth. They bought the land on 310 Oak Street for $176,000 in August 2002. But they're investing another $4.1 million into the project costs.

“One of the reasons the land on Oak Street is so inexpensive is that the land is basically useless unless you throw the $4.5 million at it,” Orzeck said.

The Oak Street project represents one of eight in-fill buildings – constructed either within the recent past or planned to be built in the near future – which maximizes the current infrastructure of a city's development, such as water, electric, sewer and streets.

Andrew's Theatre, Big Winds and the Dana Love Promotion building are all examples of this in-fill principle.

“The good thing about it (project) is that this is the center of commerce and we have policies and goals that say, ‘let's keep a vital downtown and not encourage strip development that would negatively affect downtown’,” said Hood River Planning Director Cindy Walbridge, who worked with Smart Development to ensure the building's design was consistent with the historic downtown appeal. “They were really good to work with.”

Before moving to Hood River in 1999, Fischer partnered a Silicon Valley development company that worked on the same principle.

“We would often have the Sierra Club or the Green Space Alliance stand up in public hearings and say, 'This is the kind of development we want here,'” Fischer said. “Because it keeps people from developing in green areas and in the farmlands, by using the existing infrastructure.”

In fact, Smart Development's neighbor for the next 10 months, Brad Perron of the Carousel Museum, stated his support at a Landmark meeting verbally and literally, by donating a 900 square-foot parcel of land on the museum's west end for the construction of the plaza.

Smart Development's neighbor to the west, Kerrits owner Kerri Kent is a little less enthusiastic. At the same time, however, she is building her own house, which has progressed with the predictable surprises delays and complications.

“I think it's exciting that there's a new building and that's always good,” Kent said. “It's unfortunate that our window for retail in Hood River is so small. But I know everybody involved in the project is trying to minimize the effects. We'll be glad when it's over.”

To maintain their friendly relations, Smart Development distributed a letter to all of its neighbors, notifying them of their project.

“We have worked out a plan to mitigate the impacts of traffic, parking, noise and dirt,” the letter states. “It is impossible to do a project of this nature and scale without disturbing our neighbors, but we will take all measures necessary to minimize our impact on town.”

One of these mitigating measures is restricting the times of pouring concrete from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. Fischer and Orzeck plan to have most of their heavy machinery off the street by the time businesses open to shoppers. However, construction will consume the portion of the sidewalk that borders Kerrits and the museum.

But Orzeck is cautiously optimistic about the effects of construction on nearby businesses. In 1987, he created Horsefeathers restaurant out of a vacant, rotten box that had 50 some years earlier, been used as a photo lab.

Twelve years later, the City of Hood River blocked off much of the Horsefeathers' public facade with scaffolding and any other construction necessary to build Overlook Memorial Park.

But Orzeck knew the park would be a beautiful pseudo-addition to the restaurant and besides, he said, “We experienced an increase in business due to the construction of the park. People would come in and want to see what was going on.”

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