Friday, August 26, 2011/lk
Naito Development LLC announced this week plans to move forward on a proposed Hood River waterfront project that would include an 85-plus room hotel, two commercial buildings and a cable park inside the Nichols Boat Basin. If planning, permitting and approvals can be completed in time, the company hopes to get started on the project next spring and have it completed the following year.
Naito Development announced similar plans earlier this spring, but has since added an element that is generating quite a buzz among many area residents. A cable park - popular in many European countries and gaining steam in the U.S. - is a system that allows multiple people to wakeboard at the same time, without a boat. Using a simple set of towers, pulleys and tow ropes that run in a large circle around a calm body of water, cable parks bring the sport of wakeboarding (and waterskiing) to places where it would not have otherwise been possible.
Naito Development purchased the former Nichols Boat Works property - on the south end of the basin - in 2006 and planned to develop waterfront condominiums and a marina. Flooding on the Hood River and the subsequent delta expansion that pinched off access to the basin delayed those plans, and the economic downturn a couple of years later put a halt to them altogether.
After sitting on the property for the last five years, Naito revisited plans this spring, with the added element of a cable park.
"Fortunately for us, the market crashed before we started building," said Will Naito from his Portland office. "I think it's serendipity, the way things worked out. We initially worked with the Corps of Engineers on dredging the channel to reopen boat access to the basin. Now, because of the delta, access by boats is limited and water quality inside the basin quite good because of water filtering though the dike from the Hood River. And the size, shape and depth of the basin are ideal for a cable park. It's an exciting alternative to what we had originally planned for the area."
The proposed cable park would accentuate the project's commercial buildings, one of which would be built in the first phase along with the hotel and would include a restaurant, retail and office space and a pro shop for the park. The second commercial building, just to the west of the first, would be constructed at a later time.
For the hotel, Naito Development has an application in with Hilton Worldwide, which franchises the Hampton trademark hotels. If the application is approved, which Naito said he is confident of, a management company would be hired to run the nearly 100-room Hampton Inn and Suites Hotel to be located on the west bank of the Hood River just north of exit 63.
Developing along the waterfront comes with a range of unique permitting and planning issues, which Naito Development is currently working through. Although the project would be their first hotel, the company has experience with two major waterfront development projects in the Portland area.
"We've done quite a bit of work already, and there's still a lot more to get done before we are able to break ground," Naito said. "But we have hopes that we'll get though everything in the next six months and will be able to start building in the spring."
From the Port of Hood River's perspective, the hotel and commercial projects would be a positive addition to the waterfront, and the cable park is an idea "consistent with the active recreation focus of the waterfront."
"It's an interesting idea, and I applaud the Naitos for bringing it forward," said Michael McElwee, Port of Hood River executive director. "Whether or not a cable park would be permitted is questionable. Like anything at the waterfront, there will be a variety of regulatory layers to negotiate. There's also the issue of compatibility within the basin. It's clearly being used by more and more non-motorized forms of recreation. It's an intriguing concept that drives at the question of what is the future of Nichols Boat Basin."
Although the structural footprint of the proposed cable park would be small and fairly discreet, during hours of operation the facility would require exclusive access to a majority of the basin; from the south end of the water line to about even with the north end of the Spit parking lot.
"We haven't seen a diagram of it yet, so it's not completely clear what will be proposed," McElwee said. "But the fact that they are bringing this idea forward is a positive."