Waterfront plan: a work in progress

What started out to be a simple matter of drawing up a plan for a 31-acre piece of property has turned into a 10-year clash of wills and visions, with no apparent end in sight. Many people have devoted time to the project, only to find themselves essentially back at square one.

The Port of Hood River had always intended to develop the parcel and has amended their original vision along the way to reflect the public’s changing wants and needs, but their main goal has always been to improve the economic opportunities for the area by bringing in new businesses.

Toward this end they had signed an agreement in 1997 with D.M. Stevenson Ranch to develop an upscale hotel complex adjacent to the Event Site. The contract gave the company two years to build RiverFront Lodge. But at the end of that time there was a slight changing of the guard in the port commission, and the new commission voted not to extend the contract’s deadline, causing the company to eventually withdraw from the project.

The demise of the hotel project and putting up for sale of the Nichols Boat Works property meant it was time once again to review the master plan and factor those changes into the zoning considerations. The port and city decided to hold off on addressing zoning issues for three to six months and bring in a consultant to come up with conceptual drawings. They also decided that it would be helpful to have city representation at the port’s land-use planning meetings so three members of the city council volunteered for that duty.

Recreational use of the waterfront area continued to rise and in 2000, kiteboarding arrived on the scene, bringing with it safety issues and other new factors to consider during the planning process. The Gorge’s fame resulted in even more tourism, bringing more focus on the fate of that 31-acre piece of land.

In September of 2000, the port selected Leland Consulting Group of Portland to design a blueprint for the waterfront; one that would improve land use, create more family-wage job opportunities, provide recreational use attractions, and link the waterfront with downtown Hood River and the surrounding area.

To prepare for the first work session with Leland’s company the port interviewed representatives from downtown businesses, area hotels, the commercial and residential real estate market, community and civic organizations and local leadership and visitor associations, as well as a few individuals, for their input. Leland took these varied perspectives and drafted a composite design for the waterfront.

The new waterfront design caused a mild sensation, with its bold changes in the streetscape and park-like atmosphere. But the concept was produced before cost estimates had been worked up, and the estimated cost turned out to be prohibitive — $12 million or higher.

The port hired a local architect, Carl Perron, to downscale Leland’s plan and the resulting $5 million plan was unveiled in November, 2001.

But getting everyone to agree on it is the problem — since that time debates have still raged concerning the same issues as ever: amount of park space, amount of setback, types of businesses, height of buildings, and the economics of it all. To those have been added new ones such as windshadow effect. The Waterfront Plan is still a work in progress.

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