WARRENTON — After years of false starts and frustration, Clatsop County is exploring new options to develop the North Coast Business Park.
The county hired Mackenzie, a consulting firm in Portland, to assess the condition of 140 acres the county owns at the business park and create a development feasibility report.
The county Board of Commissioners discussed Mackenzie’s report during a work session in late May, along with two options the consultant identified for potential development.
Brent Nielsen, of Mackenzie, said one option would be to consolidate the section best suited for development into a 30-acre block, which could be attractive to investors looking for bigger buildings.
The second option would involve three parcels that range from 6.5 acres to 11.6 acres, which could draw businesses interested in smaller footprints.
Both options would concentrate development on the corner of 19th Street and Ensign Lane. The county estimates the real market value of the options at about $40 million. If the property is developed, the options could generate about $400,000 in tax revenue in the first year.
It would take about $6 million in infrastructure investment to move forward, with a timeline of about two years. The county estimates that in addition to tax revenue from the business park, the new projects could bring more than 400 jobs.
Brad Carnese, the county’s real estate broker, said he preferred the first option. “I think the costs focused on one parcel are going to outweigh multiple parcels if we focus on option one within the package,” he said.
A commercial real estate sign is posted on the corner of 19th Street and Ensign Lane, but Carnese said he has not marketed the property online as the county weighs the decision.
The business park had been identified as a potential site to relocate the county’s public works facility. However, the county has said it would prefer to sell the property and get it back on the tax rolls.
“I was brought on to discuss disposing of the property, and at the end of the day we said, ‘Time out. We need to learn as much as we can’” Carnese said. “This is a significant economic future benefit to the community. And we don’t have too many answers. We need to get all the facts, figures, et cetera.
“So we’ve taken some time, and a couple steps backwards and probably have a little bit more work to do.”
The county has grappled with what to do with the property next to Costco for years.
In the 1960s, portions were cleared and graded for a proposed aluminum plant, but the plant was never built.
The county gained ownership in 1991 and designed a plan to sell about 70 acres adjacent to U.S. Highway 101 for commercial development. The proceeds were to be used for infrastructure improvement on the rest of the land.
Over the years, the business park has sat undeveloped, attracting homeless camps and off-roading. Meanwhile, the wetlands have spread, leaving about 30 developable acres of the 140 acres the county owns. Columbia Memorial Hospital and Fort George Brewery also own portions of the site.
Along with wetlands, there are other development constraints, including city water, pump station and wastewater limitations. The business park is generally flat, but there are steep slopes in the northeast corner, making it impractical for industrial development or use as wetland mitigation.
The last significant project proposed for the business park was a data center and technology incubator in 2018, but a purchase agreement fell apart in 2019 after months of extensions.
Carnese said the county has received interest in the business park from companies involved with construction, telecom, food and beverage and e-commerce.
“I believe it’s quite challenging in this climate where developers are very active focusing on low-hanging fruit, if you will,” he said. “To the point, this property has some challenges.”
County commissioners are hopeful.
“For those who have been listening to me rail against this North Coast Business Park as one of the least admirable actions of former cohorts, I think that for the first time I have some hope,” Commissioner Pamela Wev said. “Looks like we have a lot of smart people on our screen, and this is the first time I’ve ever thought we could maybe pull this off, with the advice of some creative people.
“This, as far as I’m concerned, never should have been bought and never should have ever been called a business park. But it looks to me like if we’re careful about being very strategic about the investments that we’ve all known we had to somehow make to make these at all attractive industrial sites, I think this team maybe can do it.”
Wev said she wants to see more information about infrastructure costs.
“The city of Warrenton has become very aggressive in getting developer fees for improvements,” she said. “So we’re likely to have to really play nice with the city. And I think getting perhaps some Business Oregon type of money, and especially for the infrastructure bill that is slowly moving through Congress. I think maybe we could actually do it.”
Commissioner Mark Kujala, the board’s chairman, who represents Warrenton, shared a sense of hope. He said the outlook has changed over the years in regards to wetlands and other constraints on the property.
“It’s a much bigger barrier now than it used to be,” he said. “And I do think that the city of Warrenton certainly would like to see something happen here, so I think that they’ll be very cooperative because they’ve been anxious to see development in Warrenton at the North Coast Business Park, as well.
“So I think they will be a very good partner.”