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Chamber kicks off travel to learn in cozy quarters

February 22, 2012

A small crew is making a big mess at the Port of Hood River's marina office building.

The mid-1970s structure - home to the Visitors Center and Chamber of Commerce - is receiving a major remodel to upgrade both inside and outside features. Griffin Construction started demolition work last week on the lower floor of the building, with chamber staff working from tight quarters upstairs and the Visitors Center closed for the next couple of months (with a temporary location set up at Cascade Travel's downtown office).

The project will extend the usability of the aging building for the near future, and will keep the chamber at the waterfront location for at least another decade.

"The building really needed to be updated," said Kerry Cobb, chamber director. Several months ago Cobb addressed the port commission, which was debating whether to invest more than a quarter million dollars into the building for repairs or to pursue other options for the prime waterfront property. Cobb said that if the building was not updated, the chamber would likely start looking at other locations for its headquarters.

"We really like the location," she said. "The port is gorgeous and the building is in the right place for a visitors center. The changes are going to make things a lot nicer for our operations."

The port commission approved the upgrade project last year, and the chamber committed to staying in the building by signing a 10-year lease starting in January. The upgrade includes an array of interior work, including a new HVAC system, new restrooms, walls, ceilings and floors and a new layout that will create a much-needed conference room. The major exterior improvement will be a rebuild of the large wood deck overlooking the river, which has degraded over time and is no longer up to code.

"We're crammed cozily on the upper floor until work downstairs is done," Cobb said. "They've already done quite a bit of demolishing; it's exciting. I think the project will move along pretty quickly."

The port hired Griffin Construction for the job at a price tag of just under $300,000. The company expects to have work completed by the middle of April, in time for the chamber and visitors center to settle in before the busy season.

The chamber is working on an exciting new project to promote tourism in Hood River. The project, called Travel to Learn, will run for a month starting March 23. Taking advantage of local talent, the program will be a series of classes and workshops aimed at getting people to visit the area and try some of the many great activities it has to offer.

"We have a wealth of talent here, and Travel to Learn highlights that," Cobb said. "People can come to town, hopefully stay for a couple nights, and take a variety of classes; things like stand-up paddling, wildflower hiking, photography, beading and glass-blowing. There's even a bagel-making class at the Bagel Company. "

Cobb said the chamber is working on marketing the program outside of the county and updating its website to list the classes that will be offered. For more information, visit www.hoodriver.org.

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