Jim Knight is asking for a reset for the Astoria waterfront.
“There’s been a misstep,” the Port of Astoria’s executive director said during a presentation at a City Council work session Wednesday.
This year, the City Council has recommended amendments to tighten up height and size requirements for new buildings in the Bridge Vista portion of the Riverfront Vision Plan. The changes came after a proposal by Hollander Hospitality to build a four-story Marriott-brand hotel off Second Street was approved by the city despite community outcry.
Residents opposed to the hotel applauded the changes. But property owners, including Knight on behalf of the Port, have urged flexibility, especially as the City Council and Planning Commission continue to develop codes for the final piece of the riverfront plan, the Urban Core downtown.
The Port faces serious challenges and needs to look at ways to generate revenue, Knight said Wednesday. Sections of the city’s riverfront plan include Port properties slated for development.
“How do we communally develop the right waterfront that can be financially self-supported, can produce revenue for its property owners and produce tax revenue … ? There needs to be compromise,” Knight said. “The potential imposition of building heights all along our waterfront, I’m telling you today, will only further endanger the Port.”
He praised Mark Hollander and an idea the developer shared with him about creating a maritime village along the waterfront. This kind of outside investment is necessary, Knight said.
“If I can’t develop, I have no revenue,” he said. “If I can’t find the means of outside money coming to fix us, our infrastructure is going to fall apart.”
The threat of U.S. tariffs against China has shut down timber export operations — log handling up until recently has accounted for as much as 25 percent of the Port’s revenue. There are millions of dollars worth of repairs needed to address crumbling infrastructure across Port properties, and the Port has struggled to land state and federal funding.
A causeway leading to the breakwater at the East Mooring Basin is in disrepair and closed to the public. Several docks sink under the weight of visiting sea lions. A smaller boat dock, the only boat launch for fishermen in Astoria, was damaged in December and has yet to be repaired due to complications with getting a federal permit for the work.
Knight and city leaders agree the Port and the city need to be partners.
The Port hopes to reinvigorate the East Mooring Basin through a public-private partnership with a development group led by Floyd Holcom, the owner of Pier 39. The group has proposed a plan for floating homes, expanded moorage, a promenade and a cruise ship terminal.
But the mooring basin falls under the city’s Civic Greenway portion of the Riverfront Vision Plan and is subject to codes and restrictions. Any master plan the Port develops for the area would need to be approved by the City Council.
To the west, Port property leased by Hollander Hospitality near Maritime Memorial Park and the Astoria Bridge falls under the Bridge Vista section of the riverfront plan. Any new restrictions could change what Hollander is able to build.
Mayor Bruce Jones and city councilors said they were open to the idea of providing more flexibility, on a case-by-case basis, for riverfront property owners. The Port is the largest property owner in the community, Jones noted.
“Certainly I don’t think any of us want to see, 30 years from now, the Port’s property having crumbled into the Columbia River,” he said.
All the city councilors expressed their appreciation for Knight. They acknowledged that he and his staff have inherited many of the Port’s problems.
But Councilor Roger Rocka said there is still the issue of trust when it comes to the Port. In the past, the Port has broken promises or abruptly changed direction, Rocka said, referencing a switch from plans to develop a seafood hub at Pier 2 to a prioritization of log export operations.
“How are we to believe that what is planned is what actually happens?” Rocka asked, holding up a rendering of the proposal for the East Mooring Basin.
He also questioned Knight’s implication that the most profitable development for the Port to encourage on the waterfront is the type of large-scale buildings and projects proposed by Hollander.
“As a council we’re looking for a solution that works pretty well for everybody, not just the Port,” Rocka said.