A bold future vision is in the works for the area around the Port of Astoria’s West Mooring Basin, but a messy court case could quash it from becoming a reality.
William Orr and Chester Trabucco envision the Port property with an appealing hotel, conference center and restaurant that can attract more guests, especially during the winter. With the marina and riverfront nearby it can be a majestic setting for a marina village project and would be an attractive basin-area centerpiece that would be a key asset for the community.
Trabucco’s brother-in-law, former Astoria Port Director Peter Gearin — although he ran into trouble on other matters — had appealing ideas for broadening the Port’s luster as a maritime service center. It was under Gearin that the Port began courting cruise ship business, for example. He recognized, as Trabucco and Orr clearly do, that a more polished west-end marina can play an essential role in revitalizing Uniontown. Studies have identified this community gateway as needing attention and beautification.
Once the best hotel in town, years of inattention and lack of reinvestment turned the former Red Lion at the Port into an embarrassment. There already are distinct signs of improvement under the operators.
How can proposed next steps become a reality?
Orr is president of Signature Seafoods in Seattle and has longtime connections to Astoria. Trabucco is a developer who was behind the restoration of the Hotel Elliot. The pair, through two local companies, Astoria Hospitality Ventures LLC and Marina Village LLC, currently operate the Astoria Riverwalk Inn — once the Red Lion. They also recently signed a lease with the Port to take over daily operations of the Chinook Building, which includes a seafood market, a charter boat company and several other office tenants, including the Astoria Yacht Club. The building’s upstairs has 7,500 square feet of available meeting space.
Between the Riverwalk Inn and the Chinook Building is the former Seafare restaurant, which has long been vacant and dilapidated from storm damage. Because of its condition, it would likely need to be demolished and rebuilt as a new restaurant.
With improvements to the hotel, restaurant property and Chinook Building, and potential development of other available property, the marina village vision could become a reality, creating another magnet attraction along the riverfront.
Potentially complicating matters, though, is a messy lawsuit that is scheduled for trial next month.
The lawsuit was filed in 2015 by the Param Hotel Group, a Portland hotel operator, against the Port, which owns the hotel. The hotel was previously operated by heavily indebted Brad Smithart. Param contends it had been courting him about the lease since 2014 and had an agreement with the Port to take over operation. The Port canceled its contract with Smithart in 2015 but transferred short-term operation of the hotel to Astoria Hospitality Ventures, whose majority owner is Orr. His wife Sara Orr’s brother is former Port Commissioner Stephen Fulton. The suit contends the Port breached a contract and favored the locally connected company. After the action was filed, the Port put long-term plans for the hotel’s operation on hold pending the outcome of the case. Param is seeking the seven years it would have gained after taking over from Smithart, or $4.5 million in damages.
The lawsuit certainly bears watching. Its outcome could have a serious financial impact on the Port and determine whether the vision ever comes into focus.
The stakes are definitely high. Such civil lawsuits nearly always end in negotiated settlements. That should be the outcome in this case. Without weighing in on the equities of Param’s case, lawyers and the court must look for an outcome fair to all parties, and which clears the way for redevelopment of this key site.
It is worth noting that another Trabucco project, involving the landmark Morck Hotel in Aberdeen, Washington, has been slow to come to fruition. The Port of Astoria must make sure the marina project moves along at an expeditious rate, whomever ultimately does it.