The Port of Astoria is applying for a state grant to fund a master plan for the East Mooring Basin, an ailing marina and popular tourist draw at the foot of 36th Street.
Kevin Cronin, the city’s former community development director, was contracted by the Port to seek grant money. He is applying for a Transportation and Growth Management grant due Friday to the state Department of Land Conservation and Development.
In the application, Cronin called the east basin one of the best opportunities for redevelopment because of its waterfront location, access to the Astoria Riverwalk and recent inclusion in a federal opportunity zone offering investors an avenue for tax-free capital investment.
“It’s vitally important that a master plan be in place to guide future development and investment in the area prior to receiving offers from developers and investors,” Cronin wrote.
Astoria adopted building and height restrictions in the Civic Greenway portion of the Riverfront Vision Plan between 16th to 39th streets. The plan allowed for exceptions around the Port’s mooring basin, provided the agency presents a master plan supported by the Astoria City Council.
The marina, built shortly after World II and designed for upward of 1,000 vessels, is mostly empty, save for two commercial docks near a riverfront breakwater built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and copious numbers of sea lions during fish migrations. Port staff have estimated $4 million to replace the 70-year-old 36th street causeway running over the marina, shut down to vehicle traffic since 2014.
Jim Knight, the Port’s executive director, has said the cash-strapped agency needs to seek out more public-private partnerships to improve its ailing properties such as the mooring basin. Port staff have called the East Mooring Basin a priority for the Port’s property and community development efforts.
“Regardless of what we do with the East Mooring Basin, it would be wise for us to engage with a master plan, and finding the money to do so,” Knight said of the grant application. “Here’s a crack at it.”
The amount of the grant is uncertain, and the Port would need to match 12 percent of the award.
Cronin’s application lists letters of support from Astoria Mayor Arline LaMear, the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, Clatsop Economic Development Resources, Sunset Empire Transportation District and the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce, along with nearby property owners Floyd Holcom from Pier 39 and the Patel family from Hampton Inn & Suites.
Port Commissioners Robert Stevens, James Campbell and President Frank Spence approved the grant application during a Port meeting Tuesday, with Dirk Rohne absent. Commissioner Bill Hunsinger opposed the move, calling the application a rushed decision without a chance for review by the commission and public.
“Once again, here’s the city right in the middle of our business, our property” he said, equating a partnership with the city to a land giveaway.
Hunsinger railed against recent Port decisions and ideas, such as exiting a lease at North Tongue Point and the potential study of restoring the base of the Skipanon Peninsula into a wetland mitigation bank.
Hunsinger claimed he was told the Port was preparing to sell the Astoria Riverwalk Inn and use the profits to invest in Pier 3. The Port is in settlement negotiations with Param Hotel Group, an aggrieved former suitor that was recently awarded the right to a seven-year lease on the inn or nearly $900,000 in damages.
“I just don’t see why our Port continues to get rid of our properties and not manage them ourselves, when every other port in Oregon and Washington is looking for new properties,” he said.