This past fall, Coast River Business Journal explored economic development efforts in the quiet community of Cathlamet, Wash., in Wahkiakum County. Community leaders expressed a desire then to "get the word out," in hopes of attracting visitors and businesses to the region.

(See the November 2006 CRBJ, "Cathlamet, Wash.: A jewel waiting to be discovered.")

This spring we took another look at Cathlamet, where it seems marketing efforts are bearing fruit.

The area, like others in the Lower Columbia region, is seeing new real estate development.

Marina Estates offers dockside living

Real Estate Broker David Nelson owns Cathlamet Realty West. He said one new development is happening right in town.

Marina Estates is a stone's throw from the city's marina along Elochoman Slough, on the south side of State Route 4. Fifteen lots make up the subdivision, 10 of them waterfront parcels with floating dock space.

Other land in Marina Estates may be developed for townhouses or condos. Shane Dean Construction of Seaside is slated to build six houses so far.

"They'll be upscale homes, for second home buyers," Nelson said. "For people who want a nice place to come to, with their boat in front of their house."

The gated community is a short walk to town. Lots range from about 8,000 sq. ft to about 12,500. Nelson said single-family homes between 2,000 and 2,500 sq. ft. are planned for waterfront parcels. Home prices range from $600-700K. Construction should start this summer.

"It's one of the last remaining waterfront areas," Nelson said, noting the comparatively high prices. "But if they were for sale on the Willamette River, they'd cost about two and a half times more."

Alger Creek: a surprising view

West of Cathlamet along Route 4, the Alger Creek development is taking shape. The land belongs to area logging company owner Jerry DeBraie.

"He owned the land for 35 years, and didn't realize it was view property until he logged it," Nelson said. "It has awesome views of Tongue Point in Astoria."

The new neighborhood features parcels of more than five acres apiece. Land prices start at $89,500 for lots without a view. View lots go for $225,000 and up.

Nelson figures Alger Creek will likely draw more full time residents than Marina Estates.

"It's for people who want to build a nice home with a great view," he said.

There are also several other real estate projects in the works around the area.

Nelson said another development on Greenwood Road, just across State Route 4 from downtown Cathlamet, offers about 17 lots.

Richard Erickson is the economic development director for Wahkiakum County. He said the Fairview Estates subdivision in East Cathlamet was approved by the county this spring.

"It's a development right on the golf course, with golf-course-front lots," he said. "We're going to have a tournament here in June for groundbreaking."

Perspectives on growth

Erickson said as buyers from elsewhere look to escape crowded cities, they're reconsidering the region.

"The Pacific Northwest has been a sleeper," he said. "People were told 'Don't move there; it rains too much.'"

He said the area's historic dependence on natural resource industries like logging and fishing is a relic of the past.

"Those days are over. We need to turn to something else, and tourism is a clean industry," he said, adding that upscale housing would bring fresh blood to the local economy. "People who can afford a million dollar home need doctors, lawyers, dentists, CPAs and other services. It's just another way of thinking about economic development."

Erickson said wealthy baby boomers are nearing retirement and seeking vacation or residential properties. Communities that want growth can cultivate that market.

But not all residents are enthusiastic about the influx of subdivisions.

"We have our share of people who don't like development," Erickson said. "Property values and taxes are rising."

Broker Nelson welcomes the change, both as a citizen and a professional.

"I've lived here all my life. We need some growth to assure we have businesses that stay in business and services for people who live here," he said. "We have historically had large employers that have closed down facilities. People lost their jobs and had to move."

Another factor in regional expansion is the fact that nearby Cowlitz County is gaining jobs that could fuel growth in Wahkiakum County.

"I'm sure some of those people will be living here," Nelson said. "They'll help support our school district."

Cathlamet promotion continues

"We still need a hotel," said Erickson. "We don't have one." His office will continue to market the region to hoteliers and visitors, as tourism in the region builds.

"We're developing a loop drive brochure," he said. "You can leave Astoria, take the ferry from Westport to Puget Island, and drive the loop to Long Beach and back to Astoria."

Erickson thinks Wahkiakum County will only become more appealing to buyers, especially compared to surrounding communities.

"We're seeing people who can't afford Astoria coming here," he said.

Nelson concurs. The area is also more accessible by car than most people probably realize.

"Cathlamet and Puget Island are very nice locations. You can be at I-5 in 35 minutes, and the Portland Airport in an hour and 15 minutes," he said. "We have a milder climate than the coast, but it's only an hour to the beach."

Erickson agreed that the rustic ambiance of the region appeals to people looking for an uncrowded place to live and vacation.

"We have 4,000 people," he said of the still bucolic county. "And no stoplights."

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