The Port of Astoria and the city are looking to the community for feedback as they sketch out a waterfront master plan in Uniontown.
The property extends along the Columbia River from Pier 1 to the Astoria Bridge. The Port’s West Mooring Basin and the city’s Uniontown corridor have long been considered prime locations for redevelopment.
Walker Macy, a landscape architecture, urban design and planning firm hired to help develop the master plan, will present preliminary concepts at a virtual meeting on Wednesday evening.
While they have not identified specific projects or businesses, the consultant has put together drawings of locations that would make sense for mixed-use development, retail, hotels and restaurants.
The Port and the city hope to hear public concerns, critiques or suggestions. People who are unable to participate in the meeting can give input afterward online.
“This is such a focal point in Astoria and a lot of the community has a lot of in-depth knowledge of this area and experience interacting with it … Most people have been down in this area. They’ve been down to the marina. They’ve been to the (Loft at the) Red Building,” said Will Isom, the Port’s executive director. “So I think there’s much more awareness of the area and I think it’s likely that we’re going to get a lot better feedback than maybe we would for other things that aren’t as on the forefront of the general public.”
‘It truly is unique’
The Port and the city have had discussions over the years about how to tackle development around the West Mooring Basin. In 2007, the Port spent six figures on a plan that was never adopted.
“It truly is unique, and with its location, in and around our marina, we think this property has some of the biggest opportunities of anywhere in town,” Isom said.
Isom considers it an opportune time to move forward. It was crucial to bring the city in as a partner to help benefit the community and region, he said.
“Are there maybe some different focus areas that each entity is looking for? Definitely,” City Manager Brett Estes said. “But I’d really say there is this shared level of participation in wanting to find the right thing for that area.”
An advisory committee made up of Port and city staff, as well as several residents, was put together to help navigate the process.
An emphasis in discussions with the committee is the need for adaptability within the master plan.
“Yes, we want to have a plan for how we move forward. But we also need to have some flexibility within that plan to react to changes in the economy and market condition because that is just the reality of the world and I think here in the last couple years, it’s been made even more evident,” Isom said. “It’s been a balancing act.”
The Port has suffered economic hits from the decline in log exports due to trade wars between the U.S. and China and the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on cruise ship visits.
The agency is also struggling with the burdens of deferred maintenance and infrastructure challenges, so it will need outside funding to help take on redevelopment.
“The opportunities are great in this planning area and I think because of that, we’re going to attract a lot of interest,” Isom said. “In attracting that interest, you need to make sure that as representatives of the public, we’re doing things in a way that are going to benefit the public.
“Those may include direct financing from the Port where we pay for things, it may include going after grants. But also I think a big piece of this will be attracting private dollars into this area because I think with everything this area has going for it, these things are going to pencil out. There’s going to be an opportunity there for developers and investors to come in and be able to make money.”
Urban renewal money
Since the Port and the city have teamed up on the project, Estes mentioned the possibility of the Astor West Urban Renewal District being a funding mechanism. The renewal district has about $5.3 million available for improvement projects in Uniontown.
“Our needs are great right now, but there’s a possibility of public and private coming together to pay and develop this … I’m really looking forward to more private participation,” Frank Spence, the Port Commission’s president, said.
Ultimately, Isom said, the Port’s goals in developing the waterfront master plan go back to the mission of being an economic driver and job creator for the region.
“A thriving port is good for Astoria … We are a historic waterfront community,” Mayor Bruce Jones said. “The Port and the working waterfront have been essential to Astoria’s identity.”