The Port of Astoria could buy back an old seafood lab it partnered on with Oregon State University as the agency tries to consolidate holdings at the East Mooring Basin.
The squat, orange concrete building at 36th Street and Lief Erikson Drive was christened in 1968 after being funded through a grant from the Port, matching federal money from the federal Economic Development Administration, a donation of land by Astoria and further support by the university.
The university used the 6,000-square-foot building, split between offices and shop spaces, as its primary lab in Astoria from 1978 to 1997. Research at the old lab has led to such innovations as a shrimp-hake protein patty and faster testing for mercury in tuna.
In 1997, Oregon State moved into the newer Seafood Research & Education Center on Marine Drive. The university stages equipment in the old lab and has the full setup for a pilot plant, a space for entrepreneurs developing new products in the fishing industry.
Christina DeWitt, the director of the research center, said the university has tried to lease the building out over the years with little success. The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission rents a portion of the pilot plant. The last major tenant to rent the building’s offices, Safe Harbor Animal Hospital, left in 2014 for a location near Cullaby Lake.
“It’s making sense for us to divest ourselves with that facility, and use that to kind of invest in this particular facility,” DeWitt said of the old and new research centers. “We have new lines of research that we’re doing, and that we’re wanting to do. This is an opportunity for us to, I think, kind of evaluate what’s the best use of our resources and how can we better serve our industry and our stakeholders.”
The university will soon receive the results of an appraisal and plans to give the Port first dibs. The property was assessed this year by Clatsop County for more than $467,000. But the real-market value jumped from $492,220 last year to nearly $875,000 this year after the county’s opinion on the land’s highest and best use changed from an industrial to a commercial orientation.
Port commissioners over the years have argued for trying to get the old seafood lab back. Port meeting minutes from 1966 reference a reversionary clause that was supposed to give the old lab back to the Port if it changed uses. But the Port’s attorney at the time forgot to include the clause in the deed, leaving the issue entirely at the university’s discretion.
Buying back the building will be a stretch for the Port, already hurting for cash before a trade war between the U.S. and China lopped off log export revenues and the coronavirus pandemic killed off this year’s cruise ship season.
The Port is contemplating selling the Astoria Riverwalk Inn at the West Mooring Basin and leasing the land to a hotelier.
DeWitt recently toured the old seafood lab with Will Isom, the Port’s executive director, who has told the Port Commission it should think seriously about the offer.
“I think strategically, because of its location, it is an important asset to the Port,” Isom said. “I think it would behoove us, if we can, to move forward with the repurchase of that building, if we can do it at a reasonable cost.”