The consultant hired to create the Port of Astoria’s strategic plan told the Port Commission the agency needs to get on stable financial footing and address failing infrastructure over the next two to four years before focusing on broader economic development goals.
Mary McArthur, the executive director of the Columbia-Pacific Economic Development District, began work about three years ago on the business plan. She unveiled her final draft Tuesday to the Port Commission and a room packed with interested locals. The draft will make the rounds of local governments.
The business plan, an update of an outline from 2010, lays out the Port’s economic development focus.
The Port needs an updated plan to seek help from the state to address more than $20 million in maintenance on crumbling docks. The Port still has nearly $16 million in outstanding loans with the state’s Infrastructure Finance Authority for past improvements, part of the reason McArthur said the agency needs to assure the state it will make a plan and follow through.
“This is not the end-all,” she said. “The end-all is you guys making sure whatever becomes your strategic business plan, you follow it. You follow it to the letter. You document what you’re doing. You demonstrate to the public that you’re doing what you said you would do.”
McArthur’s draft details the need to repair the Port’s central waterfront, starting with the crumbling Pier 2, where seafood processors in the agency’s warehouse take in catch and employ hundreds of workers.
Port staff estimate the pier, pockmarked with metal sheets and quick fixes to the deck, needs several million dollars in repairs. The Port recently hired an engineering firm to investigate a solution to sinking on the west side. State engineers recently recommended closure of the east side because of a rotting substructure.
Many of the recommendations in McArthur’s plan came from an ad-hoc committee of financial and economic development professionals convened to help the Port save and make more money. The committee presented its final recommendations before McArthur, along with the Port’s Airport Advisory Committee.
The finance committee called for a more proactive financial approach and better tracking of the costs of maintenance and depreciation of Port assets in leases to tenants. The committee recommended more staff involvement in reporting to the commission and more outside scrutiny of the Port.
The most immediate recommendations center around selling underperforming assets — likely buildings, but not land — to provide immediate money to address deferred maintenance.
McArthur and the finance committee recommended creating a process for assessing the viability of properties before selling any. The Port recently hired an appraiser to review the Astoria Riverwalk Inn, Chinook Building and former Seafare Restaurant surrounding the West Mooring Basin for a likely sale.
Near the end of her presentation, McArthur reiterated that the Port’s near-term plan needs to focus on requalifying for state funding, addressing aging infrastructure and regaining public trust to make a case for significant public investment.
“If you get this foundational work done, then you can go back to saying, ‘Our focus needs to be on the economic development component of our mission,’” she said. “You’re not going to get there without doing these other things first.”
The state Department of Transportation recently paused its ConnectOregon infrastructure grant program to focus on several multimodal hubs around the state.
Dave Harlan, a former Port employee and now ports manager for Business Oregon, told the Port Commission there will likely be a substantial round of ConnectOregon funding in the near future.
“I just hope that you’ve got a strategic plan in place, because I think it’s going to be a requirement to apply,” he said. “And I think there’s an opportunity to bring in some significant dollars for Pier 2, and at least take off one of your top priorities.”