As Event Site and Port see a flurry of activity, many changes in the works

The epicenter of wind and water sports in the Gorge, the Hood River Waterfront is seen here on a sunny and windy afternoon this week.

The hum of summer comes from many sources, and the waterfront is a major one.

Seen what’s happening lately at the Event Site and surrounding areas?

Downtown and the Heights are busy, between flocks of visitors to town, street and utility construction projects, and then there’s the beaches, launch sites and streets leading to those popular places.

The Sandbar, Waterfront Park, and the Event Site are hopping.

The Event Site has long been the mainstay of windsurfing culture in Hood River. The park at its founding 21 years ago was flat and treeless, but a destination was born.

Percy Jensen, former Port commissioner, said, “The work to complete 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.”

See more from Jensen on page A4.

The Event Site and the rest of the waterfront is at its busiest time of the year, with races and activities every weekend and prime wind conditions for regular user days.

n Much is happening, or pending, in recreational and cultural activity and commercial development in the areas north of Interstate 84. This is a summary of things to know about Hood River waterfront:

n Parking issues: You know those 90-minute parking zones on the waterfront? (The signs are prominent and the curbing a distinct green.) In the Port Commission meeting this week, officials said the Port is going to get serious about enforcing those zones. Consider yourself notified.

n Paving on Hood River Bridge, aka the overlay project, starts July 21 – look for one-way traffic, with resulting delays, weekdays starting Monday. That means extra traffic at Exit 64 and on Button Bridge Road and State Street, leading to the bridge approach.

n On Tuesday, the Port Commission voted 3-1 to adopt a Development District Agreement with Key Development of Hood River that, if the city approves it, would add three or more new commercial buildings adjacent to the Event Site, and lead to the demolition of the famous Expo Center building.

A group of downtown business owners spoke in protest Tuesday, saying additional retail space on the waterfront threatens the economic viability of downtown. The DDA (details below) will go through the planning commission and city council later this year

n At the northeast end of the Event Site, the boat dock is home to two food vendors and has evolved to an increasingly popular spectator spot with regular evening musical events.

n If e.coli contamination concerns arise this summer, the Port will do an expanded testing of water at four locations – Outer Hook, Waterfront Park west, Waterfront Park east, and the Event Site. The Port works with Columbia Riverkeeper and DEQ to monitor and sample the water, and alert the public when it needs to stay out of the river.

n Hood River Waterfront Park is now in the final stages of its phase 2 improvements. Extensive landscaping and new playground features were added this spring by the Park Association and City of Hood River, and the new amphitheater will be ready for use later this summer.

n In other business developments in the Waterfront Park-Event Site district, Turtle Island foods has built its new facility a block off Portway, and Hood River Juice Company is amidst an expansion project, with plans for more growth.

n Meanwhile, a proposal by Naito Corp. for a hotel on Nichols Boat Basin just to the east of the Event Site gained Planning Commission approval Tuesday, and the Port Commission approved a $5,000 feasibility study on the Luhr Jensen Building (now home to RBS and other businesses) that will look at options including extensive renovation and demolition of the building. Luhr Jensen sits just west of the Event Site, and was originally home to the iconic Luhr Jensen company, which manufactured fishing lures and other equipment before being sold in 2007 to a Finnish company.

n New art work adorns the waterfront district. Six large pieces of art are anchored at locations including along the Shoreline trail adjacent to Hood River Waterfront Park and the Event Site, Turtle Island foods, and at the entrance to the district, Second and Riverside; throughout the city a total of 15 “Art of Community” pieces will be in place by the end of July under a private-public partnership involving the Port, City, and private sponsors of the art.

n The Port last winter created an Emergency Access Zone system on the waterfront. Signs along the waterfront designate locations from the Hook to Hood River Best Western to assist emergency responders called to help injured recreationalists. Waterfront users are urged to familiarize themselves with the zones, so they can quickly state their location in times of need

n The opponents to the Key Development Expo Center DDA who spoke Tuesday pointed to the ongoing commercial growth on the waterfront, evidenced by the new or expanded businesses lining Portway Avenue. These include Stoked Roasters and Camp 1805 distillers, which both opened for retail in June, and Solstice Wood Fire Pizza, which moved there in late 2013. Meanwhile, pFriem Brewery added an outdoor seating area and is poised to expand its operations within the Halyard Building where it started two years ago.

(Residential use is not allowed on the waterfront, but the DDA is subject to amendment, and a housing clause could be added later.)

“I’m concerned with what appears to be a significant shift toward commercial space that could endanger the downtown historic district,” property owner Gary Bushman told the commission, “and at a time when the Heights is getting its legs. There is a high potential of a transfer of jobs down to the Port property, with a net zero gain in employment and the high risk of an empty downtown.” Fellow business owners Steve Gates, Mike Kitts, and Andrew McElderry also spoke against the DDA.


The Key Development DDA would involve construction of three commercial buildings along Portway Avenue and Anchor Way, and demolition of the Expo Center building to make way for parking. The DDA splits the land where the Expo Center now sits into three parcels.

To do so, Key Development must obtain permission from the city to downzone the Expo Center parcel and change the zoning on the other two parcels. The first order of business will be less complicated than the second, according to port officials.

In the vote on the DDA, the yeas were Fred Duckwall, Brian Shortt and Chairman Rich McBride, with Jon Davies opposing. Commissioner Hoby Streich was absent.

McBride said he would contact Pickhardt and urge him to reach out to the business owners to hear their concerns as the process moves forward. The four commissioners present discussed the Commission’s scope regarding potential economic impacts on other businesses in the community but the consensus was it was for the city to decide.

“There’s enough process built into it,” Duckwall said, referring to the two-stage Planning Commission/Council process. “We’re not part of the quasi-judicial process. It’s not our job.”

Key Development has agreed to purchase the property for $1.26 million. The project timeline calls for permitting to be complete by Dec. 24, construction to start in February 2015, and substantial completion by September 2015.

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