The Changing Face of Hood River

May 18

A major makeover on the face of downtown Hood River is nearing completion, and the changes brought on by one new development go more than skin deep.

The building at 310 Oak Street will not only change the retail picture downtown when three of its ground-floor spaces are occupied next month, it will bring residential “lofts” to the downtown core for the first time.

The project is the first for Smart Development Corporation, a partnership between Randy and Susan Orzeck, owners of Horsefeathers, and Henry Fischer, a developer who began coming to Hood River in the 1980s and finally moved here several years ago. About that time, Fischer bought the lot between Kerrits and the Carousel Museum, which had for years been a parking lot for what was then the adjacent bank. He soon began talking with the Orzecks about his vision for an urban infill project on the property, and the trio partnered up.

“We talked about the advantages of, literally, smart development,” Fischer said. The streets, sidewalks and services like sewer and water are already there — “so you don’t have to spend money to bring them in,” he said.

“And it’s low impact,” Randy Orzeck added. “You don’t have to carve out the next piece of farmland for your project.” Those concepts are dear to the Orzecks, who recently built a straw bale home in White Salmon that features recycled wood and other products as well as energy-efficient appliances.

“A lot of people ask, ‘What did you do (in this project) that’s environmental?’” Randy said. “I think everything about it is environmental.” He quickly lists the general specs of the building: 24 underground parking spaces, 14 storage units, 5,000 square feet of retail space and 14 residences — “all on this 8,000-square-foot lot.” And, he adds, its main components are steel, concrete and brick — environmentally-friendly and long-lasting.

The partners also felt strongly about adding quality — and life — to the downtown environment. One way they’ve done that is by creating a “plaza” on the east side of the building. A wide swath between 310 Oak and the Carousel Museum will be covered in pavers surrounding a fountain. A stair-step area along one side will provide informal seating near the fountain.

“It’s kind of like a pocket park, a gathering spot in the center of town,” Randy said. Doppio, an espresso and gelato bar that will occupy the space next to the plaza, will add to the inviting feel; large fold-back windows will open onto the plaza and outdoor tables will be set up next to it. Eventually, a stairway at the north end of the plaza will connect to the public alley behind the building where the underground parking garage is accessed.

“We tried to be cognizant of the fact that, for a long time, people have used the parking lot and (the alley behind Kerrits) as a short-cut,” Susan Orzeck said. “They’ll still be able to walk around the building that way.” In addition, a prime retail/office space is located at the rear of the building, with its front door opening onto the back of the plaza, and the main lobby for the residential lofts opens onto the plaza — both of which will add to the traffic in the public space.

The other two retail spaces fronting Oak St. will be occupied by Silverado, which will move from its current location at 412 Oak St., and Plenty, which will move from 108 Third St. The stores will be open for business next month. The fourth street-level retail space is still available for lease.

The second, third and fourth floors of the building house 14 residential lofts. Each one is a different size and has a unique lay-out. The second and third floors house 12 of the units, ranging from 800 square feet to almost 1,300. Prices start at $229,000 and top out at $389,000. On the top floor are two large penthouse units spanning the width of the building. Both of those are already sold, as are several of the smaller lofts.

“We’ve had a lot of interest, just from word of mouth,” Randy said. The units all will be finished with a combination of concrete and hardwood floors as well as carpet, granite counters, and energy-efficient appliances. All of them also feature floor-to-ceiling windows — “an amazing amount of glass,” Randy said. The lofts on the north side of the building all have a view of the river, while the south-side units overlook Oak Street.

Susan said several potential buyers have looked at the lofts initially thinking they wanted a north-side unit. “Then they get in here and change their mind,” she said. “The (lofts) overlooking Hood River have a really interesting view.” The lofts should be ready for occupancy around July.

The design and construction of 310 Oak Street has led to another project for Smart Development. Brad Perron, co-owner of the Carousel Museum, has hired the team to renovate the second floor of the Heilbronner Building at the corner of Cascade and Third streets, which will house office space. In addition, Smart Development plans to build a combination townhouse/office building at 150 Sherman Ave., whose lower-level offices will open onto the Brick Stratton Park, which borders Overlook Memorial Park.

All of the team’s projects aim to enliven Hood River’s downtown core.

“The history of small towns is not good,” Fischer said. “They don’t manage growth very well, then suddenly there are strip malls on the outskirts of town. We’re trying to get ahead of that and keep the downtown vibrant and alive.” Fischer says he also has a more selfish reason for wanting to create attractive developments.

“This is my home,” he said. “It’s going to be my home for the rest of my life.”

The Orzecks agree. “Our best interest is right here in downtown Hood River,” Randy said, referring to Horsefeathers, which he has owned and operated for nearly 20 years. “Town has been growing every year. Anything could have happened on that lot. It seems natural to help guide what you believe is appropriate development.

“When you look down Oak now,” he added, “it’s this great continuous shopping street. It’s exciting.”

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