Nichols Boat Basin waterfront plan hinges on funding

A more conservative design drawing shows what could be built in the first phase of the project.

A more conservative design drawing shows what could be built in the first phase of the project.

The Port of Hood River is nearing completion of the design phase for a project that aims to revitalize the former site of Nichols Boat Works with a waterfront bike and pedestrian trail that is to be built on the west edge of the boat basin.

Now the port just has to build it, and more importantly, figure out how to pay for it.

Representatives with landscape architecture firm Walker Macy unveiled final refinements to the design during a public meeting held at the port the evening of April 16. It was the last in a series of monthly public meetings that began in January that the port has held to gather input from both the general public as well as the dozen-plus stakeholders that make up the project advisory committee.

The final design features a paved bike and pedestrian path that winds south to north along the basin through a park that features clusters of trees as well as open green space before reaching the event site. The park is broken up by plazas and seat walls, as well as stairs and a ramp that will lead to a sandy beach at the north end. A storage facility for stand-up paddleboards and other small watercraft would be located at the south end, where boarders would be able to launch the craft down a ramp, which would abut a modest parking lot. The current seawall would be topped with a boardwalk with a new dock just below it. A handful of small, two-story buildings would serve as possible additional watercraft storage on the first floor, with potential retail space on the second. Plans also call for the removal of the median on North First Street to make room for angle-in parking along the east side of the street.

However, the full build-out of this project won’t happen all at once and is highly dependent on the port’s ability to nail down funding sources. The first building phase would only consist of the pedestrian trail — which must be built to completion per the stipulation of a $122,000 state grant the port received last year — the seatwalls, a small portion of one plaza, stairs and ramps down to the waterfront, and landscaping, which would include grading and tree planting.

The total cost of the project ranges from $2.5 million to $2.75 million, but doesn’t include the construction of the proposed retail/watercraft storage buildings. The first phase was estimated at a significantly less total of $700,000, but Port Executive Director Michael McElwee cautioned the project advisory committee as well as the public that the port had limited resources to pay for the development.

“That’s the upper limit of what we could do,” McElwee noted, referring to the first phase of the project. “And even that’s a stretch.”

Currently, the port is awaiting word on two grant applications that would provide the bulk of the project’s phase one funding. McElwee noted that if the port lost out on the grants, only the pedestrian trail could be built, without the landscaping to support it. The general consensus of both the project advisory committee and members of the public present during the meeting was to not waste money on the pedestrian trail if there was no money for the park, which would allow the public to continue utilizing a large portion of the west basin for the launching of small watercraft, but would also likely cause the port to forgo the $122,000 grant it was awarded in 2013.

McElwee added the port would need the construction of the Naito development — a hotel and commercial building planned for construction at the southern terminus of the basin — to complete the full vision of the waterfront trail, which is ultimately planned to link up with a path to be built in front of the hotel that would continue to The Spit and the pedestrian bridge over the Hood River to the east. He hoped the development, along with other projects, might generate enough tax revenue for the Waterfront Urban Renewal District to fund at least a portion of the trail.

“If the hotel is built and other things start happening, the tax income that’s generated increases to the point where you could actually issue a bond,” McElwee explained.

He noted, however, that scenario would likely be “years down the road,” and if that fell through, the project would “probably be relying almost completely on grants.”

Bob Naito, developer of the hotel and commercial building who also sits on the port’s project advisory committee, said he was unsure of when his development, which is currently tied up with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA), could be built.

“You know, we’re in the court of appeals and I couldn’t tell ya if we’ll start in three months or five years right now,” he told the committee.

After the discussion on funding, several members of the audience were given the opportunity to provide comment on the latest design. The majority of the comments surrounded concerns over the ease of launch access for stand-up paddleboarders, as well as parking near the access site. A roundabout that was initially planned for construction near the event site also proved unpopular and was removed from the plan. There were also modest concerns over the green space attracting geese. Mike Zilis, who was representing Walker Macy at the meeting, didn’t know if there was much that could be done about the issue, although he joked that “hiring some raptors” might help keep errant waterfowl in check.

Walker Macy will consider the public’s comments and present the final iteration of the trail to the port during its regular meeting Tuesday, May 6, and will present a final plan for approval by the port commission during its next regular meeting on Tuesday, May 20. Both meetings are scheduled to start at 5 p.m.

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