The Port of Astoria and the city are partnering on a waterfront master plan to shape redevelopment between Pier 1 and the Astoria Bridge in Uniontown.
Of the five overarching goals, two stand out:
• Strengthen Astoria’s working waterfront with a mix of uses and ongoing private investment.
• Support living wage jobs.
While the coronavirus pandemic interrupted many public policy discussions on the North Coast, we hope economic development moves toward the top of the list during the recovery.
Our region’s allure as a tourist destination creates opportunity, but we risk becoming overly reliant on visitors to sustain our economy. Many jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector do not pay enough to adequately cover the cost of living.
The Port’s property has the best potential to help drive the region’s economy. Along with the waterfront in Uniontown and the East Mooring Basin in Uppertown, the Astoria Regional Airport, the Airport Industrial Park and the Skipanon Peninsula in Warrenton offer canvases for new ventures.
The final outline of the waterfront master plan, released by the Port and the city at a virtual public meeting in December, is balanced and achievable. Walker Macy, the consulting firm working on the concept, organized the hodgepodge between Marine Drive and the Columbia River into an inviting layout.
We urge policymakers to prioritize the maritime industrial portion of the master plan, building on the seafood processing operations of Bornstein Seafoods and Da Yang Seafood. The outline identifies manufacturing and assembly, an industrial incubator and shipping as options for the west edge.
To the east, the master plan mentions supportive mixed-use buildings that could attract light manufacturing and a business incubator.
We recognize the economic challenges of standing up new maritime industrial projects. The Port and the city could collaborate with private developers, using infrastructure and urban renewal money as leverage.
Our concern is the working waterfront elements of the master plan will get brushed aside and the public focus will concentrate on new hotels and preserving views. Too much of the conversation around the city’s Riverfront Vision Plan was consumed with restricting development.
Two years ago, the City Council amended the Bridge Vista section of the Riverfront Vision Plan to toughen building height and scale limits and make it harder for projects like the proposed four-story Fairfield Inn & Suites at Second Street to advance.
But city councilors wisely added plan districts for the Port’s West Mooring Basin and the Astoria Warehousing property being redeveloped by Fort George Brewery.
The idea was the Port and the brewery could create master plans to bypass development restrictions in Bridge Vista and have more freedom to pursue industrial and mixed-use projects.
The waterfront master plan is sort of a hybrid, since the city agreed to partner with the Port.
Most of the public feedback so far has been positive. We expect sharper knives will come out of the drawer when developers step forward with blueprints for a 60-to-90-room hotel to replace the Astoria Riverwalk Inn or building footprints that would obstruct view corridors.
Will Isom, the Port’s executive director, and City Manager Brett Estes should be commended for setting this stage after years of inertia. Financial disarray, poor management, infighting and cronyism at the Port made such a partnership with the city unthinkable a few years ago.
Progress at the Port could also complement Uniontown Reborn, the city’s ambition to remake the historic western gateway.
Some elements of the waterfront master plan could take years to complete or may never happen. But we believe the exercise can serve as an example for other redevelopment projects if the emphasis is on a working waterfront and living wage jobs.