A pond for sailing model boats hit construction delays this summer, but the Columbia River Maritime Museum now plans to open the attraction near the end of October.
The delayed opening will give the museum time to get to know the pond during the winter ahead of spring and summer programs next year, said Bruce Jones, deputy director of the museum and Astoria’s mayor.
The museum had originally hoped the grand opening of the pond and park on the site of the former North Coast Auto Service would coincide with Astoria Regatta celebrations in August.
The museum has fielded several concerns — mostly expressed on social media — about the pond, including the fear that a motorist might careen off Marine Drive and crash into the water. Jones dismissed this particular worry.
“You would have to physically turn your wheel two revolutions,” he said, noting these kind of accidents have not happened at the site when it was an auto service. Landscaping along the perimeter will provide a visual barrier as well, he said.
Others have wondered if the pond will be abused by the community or become a place for people who are homeless to camp out.
One man who gave testimony during a public hearing on a proposed Grocery Outlet nearby joked about how the store could provide affordable toiletries to the homeless “after they’re done using the new bathing center at the maritime museum.”
Jones said the museum has purposefully minimized infrastructure that might allow people to hide or camp at the park. Museum staff will monitor the site and, like the museum’s other properties, the pond and park will be part of the Astoria Police Department’s Property Watch program.
Property Watch allows police to act on a property owner’s behalf to deal with issues after hours. The program was rebooted two years ago to address aggressive panhandling downtown and has primarily been used as a tool to curb issues tied to the homeless population.
Museum administrators hope the pond becomes a popular community hub.
“It’s for the museum campus, but it’s also a gift back to the community,” Jones said.
On Tuesday, the Planning Commission approved the final public step the pond project needed to move forward: a variance to install a historic sign.
The sign, a 32-foot-long milled old growth timber with “Columbia River Maritime Museum” spelled out in steel letters, was used when the maritime museum moved into its location on the waterfront in the 1980s.
A donation from one of the board members at the time, the sign was first placed out in front of the main building on the west side but was later moved to a second site near the bar pilot boat, the Peacock, according to Sam Johnson, the museum’s executive director. Its new home will be up near the road in front of the pond.
“It’s moved steadily east,” Johnson said.
The pond and park are located near the museum’s Barbey Maritime Center, at the far end of a large parking lot some distance from the museum. Michelle Dieffenbach, of Rickenbach Construction, told the Planning Commission the sign could pull double duty as a sort of gateway to the community.