Percy Jensen of Hood River served as Port Commissioner from 1973-1993. He recently wrote this short history of how the Event Site came to be built and developed into the centerpiece of the windsurfing culture in the Gorge.
Inasmuch as 2013 was the 20th anniversary of the Hood River Event Site, I felt it only proper to mention how it all got started.
I feel this project and the purchase of the mostly empty Diamond Fruit Buildings (DFG) in the 1990s were the start of an important chapter of improving our job market in this area. In addition, this was my last year on the Port as I had 20 years on this body and that was enough.
When elected to this office, I joined a very distinguished group of commissioners. All had lived in the community for many years and all had participated and were an important part of our community. I was the new kid on the block, so to speak. The commissioners were Dr. Stan Wells, Bill Wells, Morrie Walton and John Weber.
I knew that if I was going to present a large project like the Event Site, I would have to have plenty of research and information to present to our commission. I therefore started to work on the project by using my lunch hours to interview people trying to find a place to engage in a new sport called windsurfing. Many young people were from other states and Canada, and they thought this was a wonderful area for this new sport. In addition, many had skied here and were most impressed with the area and its beauty!
I spent several months talking to these young people, men and ladies, and they were more than a little impressed that we were thinking of this. In order for them not to elevate their hopes too high, I told them about the Port Commission, how it operated, and how they needed facts to approve any major project. The commissioners could be tough and they should know this!
One very promising circumstance I told them about was a new port director by name of Jim O’Banion and I felt he would be a very good person to work with, which he proved to be. In addition, some of the people had met him and were impressed with him.
For several months, I met many young people and I asked them searching questions about drugs and liquor, etc. They did not hesitate in answering and I would not have been surprised if they had, as my questions were very searching.
The questions were certainly a lucky break for me and they proved to be good helpers when the actual project was approved and bids let.
Now that my research was done, it was time to present my finding and proposal to the commission. Needless to say, I was somewhat nervous but determined to start ASAP as these people had to be impressed. They were very experienced members of the community and would only approve when they had the facts. One big advantage I had was the commission had in the past discussed the uses of two pieces of property on the Port site and how valuable they were. The site being proposed was one of the best as it had the most waterfront footage.
The final meeting on the Event Site was held in early 1993. At that point our research was done, final costs, etc., were in order to receive the Commission approval. I was very confident that we would receive an approval and this was especially true when we had some very good news for the costs. This part of the whole project would have been the most expensive, the most difficult and time consuming to complete.
This part of the project required us to work with the Corps of Engineers as it was entirely a part of the river. In contacting the Corp, we had to receive permission, find the proper fill, and have an entrance sign removed as well. Our port manager had worked with this body before and we had a good relationship. The meeting was held and were we in for the shock of our life.
In consulting the person in charge we were shocked to know that they would provide the fill at no costs to the Port of Hood River. The Corps representative told us that they were in the process of completing a very large dredging operation upriver and needed a place to dump the spoils. This was a shock to the people working to complete the final presentation as it greatly reduced the costs, the time -consuming part of filing for permits, etc. We had to have the fill checked to see if it would fit into our project and found it was the type we could use. This eliminated many, many hours of work as well as greatly reducing our costs and would speed up the work we had ahead of us.
The Port relationship with this body had really paid off and not only would they transport and dump the fill, they would remove the entrance sign and tug tie-down apparatus. What good news this was to us for our upcoming meeting and approval. I was supremely confident this approval would be 100 percent approved.
Our next Port of Hood River meeting was upon us and when we presented this major change, a motion was made to approve and start immediately. As was hoped for, we received 100 percent approval and the race was on to complete this project prior to the start of the windsurfing time.
The very large amount of planning and work had really paid off. I personally was greatly relieved as I had a business to run and many other things to do. I also knew that our very efficient staff would take over and expedite the completion of this large but important Port project. Some parts of the project, including paving the parking lot, planting trees, etc., could be done in the fall, when many of the surfers had gone home.
The work at the event site was complete enough in 1993 to allow the surfing to start, and that first year turned out to be a real “barn burner” and greatly exceeded our expectations. The next year was even larger, and it continued to grow as the word was out. The Port of Hood River Event Site was ready and complete. This information was out to many states and Canada. Each year it seemed to grow and the word was out that the wind conditions were ideal. We were also listed, according to some surfers, that this site was one of the best in the country.
In looking back at the events on the Port during these 20 years, I felt we had some part in changing our local economy. At the time this event was started, the Port had also purchased the old Diamond Fruit Complex. The 980,000 square feet of mainly empty building was a real challenge to us. However, our area had one of the highest unemployment records in the state. Now, in a recent article in the Oregonian, we are listed as one of the lowest. I firmly believe these two events changed the employment structure considerably with these results. While most did not wish for uncontrolled growth in our small community, most people would agree to have our employment structure improved.
As the year drew to a close and my years on the Port of Hood River commission would be ending, I felt very privileged to have served 20 years and play a small part in this positive change. I also was fortunate to have served with some really great people whose only goal was to improve the area they lived in. The commission members I served with were all outstanding members of the community and got along very well.
People I would like to recognize as providing valuable help and assistance during this report: Steve Tessmer, Steve Gates, Carol York, and Doug Campbell.