A proposal which would shelve plans for a cable park in the Nichols boat basin and use Urban Renewal funds to build a waterfront esplanade and make environmental improvements to the basin was presented to the public for the first time at Tuesday's port commission meeting.
Commission president Jon Davies introduced the plan, which he and Hood River Mayor Arthur Babitz developed outside of their roles as elected officials, at the start of the meeting.
“Everyone has a vision of what the water's edge could become,” Davies said. “In my view it is really important that the community pulls together … it's good for the town, it's good for the Gorge and it's good for the other neighbors in the area.”
Heather Staten, who has advocated for a public access alternative throughout the cable park process, said she was very much in support of the plan after hearing more of the details.
“I can't hide my enthusiasm for the plan that Arthur and Jon have presented,” she said. “When I start thinking about the basin and the cable park my approach has always been it should not just be about saying no to a cable park, but yes to a different plan on what the basin and the waterfront could be. I really think the plan that is being submitted to you now really speaks to your mission of economic development and improving quality of life for citizens of Hood River and does it in an accelerated way with an identified source of funding.”
Naito attorney Steve Naito said that the Naitos are on board with the plan, but that there are still plenty of details to be worked out.
He also made it clear he felt the Naitos still hold all the cards in the situation by referring to the hotel as “the piggy bank which pays for all of this.”
He said that the the request to put the cable park in the basin would not be pulled until the differences were resolved between the Naitos and Friends of the Waterfront over the hotel project that Naito Development, working as NBW Hood River, wants to build at the south end of the basin.
“We've been in touch with Brent Foster and the Friends (of the Hood River Waterfront) and apparently they have some concerns with the upland development which we were not aware of. So I guess what we would like to do is not withdraw the cable park application at this time. Mr. Foster told us he should be able to get us quickly a list of what those concerns are and we should be able to find out very quickly then if that is something we can address,” Naito said.
“Within a week we should be able to submit a letter to the Port saying we are on board and have resolved this issues with the Friends and have an understanding on how to move forward and get rid of the LUBA appeal and the lawsuits, and that their concerns, whatever they may be, have been addressed; or if they can't be addressed we'll know that this plan cannot work and we'll ask to continue the (cable park) process."
Davies and Babitz laid out further details on the plan to the port commission and why they felt tabling the cable park and moving to a plan to improve the waterfront and the basin and emphasize mixed-use would be better for economic development.
“One might wonder why an esplanade and public beach access is economic development,” Babitz said. “You as a body know more than anyone that one of the biggest obstacles to development in the entire waterfront area is that any lot that has any exposure to the water is going to be controversial and difficult to develop. What we are suggesting is removing the controversy and removing the difficulty through this urban renewal plan by defining the public interface to the water in such a way that the rest of the lot becomes something which is relatively straightforward exercise for the port commission to work on.”
Babitz believed that the current urban renewal tax increment from the waterfront could be used to help pay down the urban renewal agency's debt and that the tax increment growth from the Naito development could help pay for the esplanade and other improvements, which would in turn spur additional economic growth.
“In 2008 the base was frozen at $11.8 million...which proved to be a fortuitous time to freeze the base and it wasn't accidental we started the plan at that time, since that time there has been an enormous amount of growth down there,” Babitz said of the waterfront urban renewal plan. “The projection for the existing construction, everything which has a foundation in place or has been built since 2008, you quickly get into the $30-$45 million tax base...that's the sort of engine which I demonstrated earlier would quickly pay of the $2 million in debt the urban renewal agency either has or will have by the end of this year...If you add the hotel and other projects which are quite likely, you get into the $60-$75 million range and you get into the $80-$90 million range if you assume you are successful in the urban renewal and something gets built on Lot 1.”
While he and Davies had come up the outline of the plan, Babitz said it was now time for the public agencies to take over and figure out how all the details would work moving forward.
“To make this happen...the first step is to have the port and urban renewal agency to direct their staff to start working on this,” Babitz said. “Jon and I aren't going to do all the analysis; we're not going to make all the contacts; we're not going to be able to move all the pieces which make this kernel of an idea into a plan.”
The port eventually decided to put staff work on the cable park on hold while the Naitos and Friends of the Waterfront attempt to resolve their differences over the hotel development and to begin working up a staff analysis of the plan presented by Babitz and Davies.
Babitz also added that the port would have to decide the division of Lot 1 soon, with one portion needed to make the esplanade, and other parts reserved for economic development.
The port has had plans for Lot 1, which is currently devoted to two large and often empty parking lots between the event site and Portway Avenue, as being the next big economic growth area on port property for some time.
However, those plans have yet to fully realized, due to the lack of development in and around the basin.
“I've been here 17 years and that thing hasn't changed an inch,” Davies said of the basin and surrounding area. “If this works, it will.”
Staten hoped that if the plan goes through, that everyone who uses the waterfront will benefit.
“I hope that by five years now that the Naitos as an anchor tenant of the south end, with a bustling dynamic west end of the basin, that they reap the economic benefits of that development. I hope that I'm right and this mixed-use development is more lucrative to them than a cable park would have been,” she said. “I really want this to be an economic win for everybody all around.”