Starting our tour on the Astoria Riverwalk at Pier 39 and walking west, we pass many sites along the way that have changed recently, are in the midst of change, or are about to change, as development picks up steam after a 2-3 year lull. Please refer to the map for locations of the featured sites below. Enjoy your walk along the beautiful Astoria peninsula waterfront!
1. Hampton Inn
During the visioning exercise for development along the Astoria riverfront, permits for this hotel were obtained, and when the plan was adopted by the city council, it was grandfathered in. After many delays, ground was broken for this latest “brick” in the “wall” of condo and hotel developments along the waterfront that intially prompted residents to petition the city council for a moratorium on development until zoning had been changed to reflect the desires of the majority.
Times have changed, and most are either ambivalent or support the development. Floyd Holcom, owner of the Pier 39 development, recently sold the property between 37th and 39th Streets and Leif Ericson Drive and the river to the hotelâ€™s developers, and the hotel will be built in the northeast portion of that property. The RV park will remain for the time being, according to Brett Estes, director of the Community Development department in Astoria.
Elizabeth Menetrey, one of the original petitioners for a moratorium, and a member of the vision committee that oversaw the planning process, said of the planned hotel, “I got a stomach ache looking at the drawing of the upcoming Hilton Hotel. I didn’t think of it as being so close to the river… I am especially interested in the setback from the Riverwalk. The thing looks huge!”
Construction of a 4-5 story apartment building for “workforce housing”, a fancy way of saying low-income housing, is under way, and the building is expected to open in the fall of this year. It is supposed to supply a need for housing for workers at various tourist and other local industries that can’t afford the beautiful old Victorians in Astoria. It sits right next to the recently built senior housing on Marine Drive. A cool feature of this building is an associated playground area, given that it is supposed to be for families. A park on the corner to the east of the development will stay.
Directly north of the workforce housing, work has begun on another unit of affordable senior housing, another vast need in the area. This building is expected to be similar to the design of the existing senior housing next door. According to Estes, the nursing home facility associated with Clatsop Care that was slated to be built west of all this construction on Marine Drive has been delayed due to funding considerations.
The building that until recently housed the Clatsop Community Action Regional Food Bank, called the Darigold Building, and formerly serving as a baggage center (the Railway Express Agency) for the train depot next door, is gone. In a bow to the historic preservation program at Clatsop Community College and local recycling activists, much of the building materials have been removed intact, for use in other building projects.
A small city park/open space area was one of the elements of the Riverfront Vision Plan that was fought for by local activists, and is to be located in this general area of the waterfront. According to Estes, this park is still on, but details have not been discussed by the city council or city staff yet. The removal of the Darigold Building will allow this open space area to have better access, according to Estes. Code changes to the area in the Riverfront Vision Plan labeled the Civic Greenway (from the Maritime Museum to Pier 39) to allow for this park, as well as other development in this area, is a goal of the Astoria City Council for the coming year, Estes told me.
4. 17th Street Dock Replacement Project
Funding to replace the wooden dock just west of the Columbia River Maritime Museum has been secured, and construction on the new concrete and steel structure is slated to begin any time. According to the experts, the wooden structure was not stable, and could not support the docking of newer, larger Coast Guard vessels over time. The new structure will also, of course, be more resistant to fire.
5. Cannery CafÃ© and No. 10 Sixth St.
The buildings formerly housing part of the Bumblebee Cannery complex and offices, which were extensively burned during a fire in late December 2010, are still the way they were after firefighters battled the raging blaze for days into 2011. Estes said that problems with insurance and ownership changes have stalled any reconstruction efforts. As far as is known, the Cannery CafÃ© owners are planning to rebuild the popular restaurant on the same site. The fate of No. 10 Sixth St. is less certain. Most of the former tenants of that building, including this newspaper, have found other offices in which to operate.
Now a vacant lot just east of TLC Federal Credit Union on Marine Drive, this was the site of Willie’s Car Wash and gas station (the sign for prices is still there) until the mid-1990s, and before that, the site for the Astoria Electric Company, which became the first generating station of the Pacific Power network in 1911, burning wood waste from the adjoining West Shore Mills, now part of the Astoria Warehouse complex north of Marine Drive.
Funding and other delays have finally been overcome so that the above-ground water main on Bond Street, there since the slide in 2007, can be moved underneath Marine Drive, and Bond Street potentially opened to two-way traffic again in that area. The Bond Street Waterline Replacement Project, as it’s called, costing about $700,000, is supposed to start construction in August and be completed in October. Construction on Marine Drive will be at night, but during the day on Bond Street. Two-way traffic on Bond Street in this area will depend upon the stability of the slope above.
7. Westerlund Log Export Operation
Overcoming initial rejections of the idea of log exports at the Port of Astoria, this operation has been going since earlier this year. The contrast of mountains of logs and the brand new Bornstein Seafood Factory next door shows the visitor the two main historical industries of the Astoria area â€“ logging and fishing/canning â€“ and also highlights the different approaches being taken to modernizing these industries. After securing promises from the Port that would allow for a major tourist operation at the seafood factory (think Tillamook Cheese Factory scale), Bornstein management has clashed with new Port management over the use of Pier 1.
This gem of a public trail in the midst of an industrial and commercial center (the Port of Astoria) gives great views of Saddle Mountain, the new Youngs Bay Bridge to Warrenton, the Columbia River bar, Washington State, Port operations and marinas. Improved a few years ago as a natural extension of the Riverwalk, it is a must-see for visitors and residents alike!
9. Denver Avenue Sewer Project
Amidst great fanfare and grumbling by city and local sports officials, this part of the combined sewer overflow project in Astoria was recently completed, about a baseball season late. The former Tapiola Park ballfield is currently growing grass, and will be ready for play later this year.
Work is currently going on to cap the “tar body” that accumulated when tar from the Pacific Power (and then Cascade Natural) gasification plant was dumped in the bay at this former electricity generation complex from 1922 to the 1950s.
This was the site of the gasification plant (operated first with coal and then oil), and a steam plant to generate electricity, operated by Pacific Power from 1921 through the 1970s. The gasification plant was demolished in 1986, and the steam plant in 2000. Remediation work has been going on, and Pacific Power plans to develop the area into a commercial, retail and housing development called Youngs Bay Landing. Briefly introduced to the public in 2006, the plan has been delayed, but Rosemary Johnson, Astoria’s chief planner, said that the vision of redevelopment in this area is still alive.