Actor envisions Elizabethan theater for Cascade Locks

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

December 13, 2006

Port of Cascade Locks commissioners heard a proposal for building a replica of an Elizabethan theater on Thunder Island at their Dec. 7 meeting.

Scott Palmer represents the Columbia Gorge Rose Theatre project. He talked to the commissioners as his latest effort in finding a home for the project in Hood River County.

His argument for the timing of building such a theater now in the Gorge is its proximity to the Portland area but also its distance. He said Cascade Locks would be an outdoor trip away from the Portland area but close enough to be affordable.

“Oregon is well-known for having classical theater but that (Ashland) is a long ways to go,” he said.

He also cited Portland’s support for theater and arts as well as changes in travel habits during recent years. Palmer cited 2005 Oregon Tourism Commission statistics from a study on how people were traveling shorter distances because of the high cost of gas. That study found people more likely to go on weekend trips.

He said the project’s organizers were enthusiastic about the Port of Cascade Locks Marine Park because it is on or near the riverfront (which is historically where the Rose Theater was located), it’s accessible by a major road but also far enough off the main highway for sound quality, and the location of Thunder Island being the right size for a theater with a box office and administration on the mainland.

Palmer wants to do a feasibility study on locating the Elizabethan theater and accompanying Shakespearean acting company in the Gorge but needs money. So far, he hasn’t had any takers.

“We haven’t raised any but we need someone to step up and take the lead to commit … so these other pieces can fall into place,” Palmer said.

He was answering commissioner Marva Janik’s question about how much of the $45,000 goal he had reached. Palmer said they had hoped to come up with that amount by the end of the year.

Port director Chuck Daughtry heard Palmer’s presentation at a different meeting and invited him to come take a look at Cascade Locks for his idea. Daughtry brought him before the commission not to decide on money but to inform them and to hear if the commissioners were okay with the idea.

“Our role would be to leverage other funds and work as an agent to help him arrange a package of funding,” Daughtry said.

What Palmer wants to build is an octagonal-shaped theater with a partially-covered roof that would hold an audience of 750-900 for a four-month season from June through September. He said the “original practice construction” would cost about $28 million and be built over the next three to five years.

Commissioner Tim Lee had a concern about access into the park, which is constricted by a narrow underpass below the railroad. He also felt parking could be a bottleneck in the summer with other uses of the area.

“We’re going to have to justify the investment in the underpass at some point,” said Daughtry. “Timing wise it fits and we did look at other sites on port property. Those are all things that we would examine through the feasibility study.”

The commissioners concurred they wanted Palmer and Daughtry to keep working on the project.

In other business;

* Daughtry reported to the commission that due to an internal rule change at the Bureau of Indian Affairs the jurisdiction for comment on the proposed casino has been extended from 10 miles to 25 miles out from the site. He said the change is for off-reservation casinos and will add more months to the process as it brings in Multnomah County, Carson, and Hood River.

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