Dirt piles mark the site of a proposed hotel and commercial building project at the south end of Nichols basin on the Hood River waterfront.
Photo by Ben McCarty.
A plan to revitalize the Nichols Boat Basin through urban renewal dollars will now get a look from both the Port of Hood River and the Hood River Urban Renewal Agency.
Following a presentation by Hood River Mayor Arthur Babitz and Port Commission President Jon Davies, the Urban Renewal Board — the city council plus two port commission members — voted to have City Manager/Urban Renewal Agency Director Bob Francis work with Port Director Michael McElwee on fleshing out and analyzing the plan.
The three core principals behind the plan — as outlined by Babitz and Davies — are improving the waterfront at Nichols Basin through an esplanade, increased public recreation access and environmental and habitat improvements in and around the basin.
“We have an industrial site not creating jobs any more and an abandoned basin which has been partially reclaimed by wildlife and recreationalists ... it’s a classic urban renewal situation,” Babitz said. “What we are looking at is a way to provide jobs a way to provide access and a way to enhance habitat.”
Babitz stated that with the completion of a hotel on the south end of the basin and increased economic development of Lot 1 on the waterfront, that the tax increment for urban use could reach the $55 million range in 10 years.
“All of this is based on the assumption that we’ve gotten past the conflict about the cable park and the lawsuits and LUBA appeals because the funding of this depends on the tax increment from the hotel and the commercial building,” Babitz said.
Davies felt that the plan would be a way to help bring the community together in an area that has drawn intense interest.
“The port received 1,350 pieces of correspondence on the cable park issue. You could argue on either side of the cable park issue and have a pretty good argument, but at the end of the day all you would have is a lot of arguments,” Davies said. “On this plan we’ve already got about 50 emails, all in support. There is enormous public interest in the waterfront area.”
According to Babitz, for every $10 million in tax increments, $112,000 annually goes into the urban renewal fund.
He estimated that if the hotel were put in, and further development of lot one were achieved, the tax increment would reach the $55-$60 million in the next decade and lead to $600,000 per year going into the urban renewal fund.
Babitz said he estimates that improvements outlined in the plan would use about $2 million of that funding and said that the plan could be put into place without any changes to the Urban Renewal plan adopted in 2008.
“We will have a sizable increment built up very quickly with the addition of the project planned for the south end of the basin. You can make a solid case for having significant urban funds spent in the order of about $2 million; I can mathematically demonstrate it is available,” Babitz said.
Davies and Babitz said that the impetus behind their plan was to improve the waterfront in multiple ways while eliminating the controversial issue of the cable park.
“What this plan does is it draws a line which says everything to the right of the line is part of public amenity; you have the esplanade providing access to walk-through, you have green space providing access into the basin waters and you have riparian enhancements of the basin which would clearly benefit all involved,” Babitz said.
“By doing that you remove the controversial aspects of the development of Lot 1 for the most part,” he said. “Draw the line, establish the uses and make clear to the community and local developers how this piece is divided and that should greatly enhance our ability to see the development of this area proceed both along lines that are productive and that generate jobs that we would like to see out of this former industrial site, which is no longer building ships.”
McElwee said that Urban Renewal funding through an increased tax base would not be the only funding available and that “there are opportunities for grant money in front of us.”
He added that while he was interested in working on the plan and helping to flesh out the details, “there is a lot of work to do.”
Davies wrapped up his presentation to the urban renewal board by saying that “This is our last individualist plea,” and stating that it was time for the plan to go before the public and public bodies because “it doesn’t need to be Jon and Arthur’s plan any more.”