Cascade Locks starts process for new downtown vision

December 7, 2011

Cascade Locks has changed a lot since 2004, the last time the city council put together a development plan for the city's downtown.

A planned casino has been stalled, the economic downturn hammered housing developments and the city government itself has seen turmoil and turnover.

That plan envisioned a downtown lined with tree groves, stone benches and modern street lights anchored by increased access to the port and redeveloped Columbia Center Mall.

When current Port Special Projects Manager Holly Howell went through the plan this fall, there was not much progress to found.

"City council did adopt this plan, but as far as I can tell, not much of it has been followed," she told a joint meeting of the Port Commission and City Council Monday night.

The port and city came together at the encouragement of interim city administrator Paul Koch to reboot the process and gather some fresh ideas.

The intent of the meeting was not to pick apart the old plan or to come up with a new one in one fell swoop, but to begin the process of visioning what Cascade Locks could look like in 30 years.

Koch has experience on similar projects in the past, including one to revitalize the downtown district of Maupin. Koch said that revitalized downtown will be key to any growth in Cascade Locks in the future.

"Downtown becomes a major driver in growth," he said. "The big project you all were hoping for is probably not going to happen. We need to sit down and figure out what we want downtown to look like in 20-30 years without a whole lot of detail."

Initial ideas suggested simple projects ranging from painting to pulling weeds.

"It doesn't take any money to pull weeds," said community member Gyda Haight.

As ideas began to fly in from the audience, Koch kept the conversation on track whenever people got into side discussions on the merits or practicality of any of the ideas, reminding them that "We want you to go up to 30,000 feet, go forward 30 years and tell us what you see," he said. "If you see a tree-lined Main Street, that's great; but we don't want to know where you buy the seeds from."

Ideas began flying in, ranging from an interactive playground similar to the one at Hood River's waterfront park to increased bike access and electric vehicle-charging stations. Koch wrote so many down on sheets of paper lining the room that he used up the ink in several markers.

Repeated mentions were made of making the town friendlier for current and future businesses.

Among the ideas for improving the business environment downtown included flower baskets, weather shelters and bike racks to make the downtown more accessible.

Ideas were also tossed around of what sort of businesses could be used in Cascade Locks or how current business could expand to meet a need.

Several people brought up making Cascade Locks more outdoor recreation-oriented, a path it has already started down with increased events for the bike and sailing communities.

However, one problem several people noted is that the city does not have the services to meet the demand of that clientele, with one noting "we need to be a 24-hour city."

Ideas to expand services included an outdoor clothing and supply store, and equipment rental shop, and eateries open later in the evening, a brew pub in the heart of downtown and a better use for the current city hall building.

"Twenty years from now I want a place like Leavenworth to look at us and go 'Wow, how did they steal business from us," City Council member Jeff Helfrich said.

Port Commissioner Joeinne Caldwell said it was important to seek input from the business community and the community at large as the process moves along, instead of simply dictating a plan.

Several members of the business community were present at the meeting and volunteered to be part of the steering committee which will seek continued input to continue the process.

At the end of the night participants agreed that to avoid repeating 2004, the community would need to unite behind a plan.

"We need to have the fortitude to follow the vision," City Council member Helfrich said.

Koch emphasized that simply coming up with a plan is not enough, that it needs to be put into action, unlike the previous attempt.

"We can't just sit here and do nothing," he said. "Or the future will escape us."

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