Port of Astoria commissioners on Tuesday tentatively approved exploring a partnership with a private company to develop housing and a cruise ship dock at the East Mooring Basin, while expressing plenty of questions about how it will work.
Nik Sernande, a San Francisco-based architect and member of Fishermens Wharf - Astoria LLC, presented his vision for the marina to commissioners. In the audience was Floyd Holcom, a former Port commissioner, leading member of Fishermens Wharf and owner of Pier 39 directly to the east of the marina.
Sernande, who has worked with Holcom to develop Pier 39 from a former cannery to a commercial complex, likened the possibilities at the marina to the development occurring on San Francisco’s Treasure Island, a former Navy base where his company is based and he has assisted with mixed-use developments.
The East Mooring Basin, including a causeway running to an Army Corps of Engineers breakwater protecting the marina, was built in the 1940s as a postwar employment project. Designed to hold around 1,000 slips, the marina is largely empty except for several commercial boats and a seasonal crowd of sea lions following fish runs. The Port has failed at various efforts to evict the sea lions and does not have the money to significantly develop the marina.
Fishermens Wharf has proposed expanding the marina to the east of the causeway while building floating single-family homes to the west, similar to development found in Sausalito, California. The company seeks a 50-year lease of about 100 acres.
The floating homes would provide additional housing, while expanding moorage would help ease the long waitlist at the Port’s West Mooring Basin, Sernande said. A second phase of the company’s vision would develop a cruise ship dock along the breakwater.
“What we really want to do is create an inviting riverwalk to connect the east end mooring basin to the downtown area,” Sernande said.
Commissioner Bill Hunsinger has repeatedly raised concerns about the cash-strapped Port ceding control to work with private entities to develop its languishing properties. He has, for example, objected to the agency exiting its lease at the North Tongue Point industrial dock early to allow boatbuilder Hyak Maritime to develop a vessel fabrication and repair center.
The public has shared many concerns with him about what the project at the East Mooring Basin would do to parking, traffic, a boat ramp for recreational fishermen, the longshoremen-handled cruise ship business on Pier 1 and any agreements the Port has with the Army Corps regarding its breakwater, he said.
“What money does the Port of Astoria get in this public-private partnership with these guys?” Hunsinger asked. “What kind of money does the Port retain for the property that we own up there?”
Other Port commissioners, while agreeing with Hunsinger’s concerns, said the Port is just at the starting point with Fishermens Wharf. Commissioners Robert Stevens and Dirk Rohne both lauded the ability of private enterprise and government to work together for the public’s benefit.
“If as a governmental body we can facilitate good things that benefit the community, I would be for it,” Stevens said.
The East Mooring Basin is subject to building and height restrictions in the Civic Greenway portion of the Riverfront Vision Plan between 16th to 39th streets. The Port can get exceptions if the agency presents a master plan that is approved by the Astoria City Council.
The intent is to develop a solution that meets the needs of the Port, the city and Fishermens Wharf’s investors, but the company needs to begin due diligence and flesh out what’s feasible, Sernande said.
The Port still needs to work on a lease agreement with Fishermens Wharf, along with a master plan for the region that addresses all the issues raised and improves the East Mooring Basin, said Jim Knight, the Port’s executive director.
“This is the very first step,” he said.