Wednesday, September 19, 2012/lk
The Hood River waterfront could have fewer wind sport schools next year.
Reducing the number of the schools is an option the Port of Hood River is considering to reduce crowding on the waterfront through its concession permit master plan.
Concession permits for kite boarding, windsurfing and food vendors expire at the end of the month and the Port is looking at what arrangement works best for the next series of three-year permits.
Currently there are seven schools which offer kite boarding and another which only does windsurfing and standup paddle boarding on the waterfront.
Port officials say they have heard concerns from school operators that having so many people attempting to use the sandbar on a busy day can cause safety concerns.
“It’s busy out there; it’s not just the schools, it’s the kiteboarders that are coming from everywhere,” said Port Waterfront Coordinator Liz Whitmore.
Whitmore said that school owners had expressed concern that seven schools caused crowding on the sandbar and the event site, too much competition and a varying level of expertise among the instructors.
“There is not a lot of room at the event site,” Whitmore said. “We get parked out during the high season.”
Of the seven kiteboarding schools and one SUP/Windsurfing school, six have permits to operate on the event site. Brian’s, Cascade Kiteboarding, Gorge Gradients, Hood River Waterplay, New Wind Kiteboarding and Big Winds are all permitted to use the event site.
The schools line the former cruise ship dock on the east end of the event site, and a few operate from the parking lot as well.
In addition to the schools two food concessions — Sandbar Café and Big Papas – also operate at the event site during the summer.
“We do have other spots along the waterfront where these business can spread out a little bit,” Whitmore said “The goal would be to spread out a little bit more.”
However, she added that most want to be at the event site, which is the center of the waterfront.
“The event site is the hub of all the activity,” she said.
The Port does not necessarily have to reduce the number of the school, and other options which are under consideration are relocating some to the spit or the hook, and figuring out other ways to divide up the cruise ship dock.
However, many of the schools are requesting larger spaces than they currently have, and the Port would prefer to not have schools operating in the parking lot.
Craig Bishop of Gorge Gradients said he would like to see a drastic reduction in the number of schools — to three.
Bishop supports limiting the schools to those who are affiliated with shops that sell equipment.
“We need shop support to conduct business properly and being that there only three shops in Hood River, I personally think three schools to be enough,” he said.
Gorge Gradients is associated with Big Winds as the school’s kiteboarding equipment shop.
Bishop added that the current situation among the schools means that none of them can expand or grow and are all “fighting for a little piece of the pie.”
“No one business can grow that much, because it’s divided up so much,” he said. “I’m a big proponent of seeing the numbers reduced, so that the schools could work together.”
Others in the industry, who did not want to speak on the record, felt that the Port should not restrict the number of schools and the market should be allowed to sort itself out to those who provide the best level of service.
The Port is looking at placing additional restrictions on permits for the next cycle including adding a clarification on retail sales, requiring schools to have a wave runner or jet ski and a requirement that outside clinics be sponsored by schools.
The Port Commission was scheduled to look at a draft of the kiteboarding school RFP (Request for Proposals) plan at their Tuesday meeting and will likely issue the RFP to schools next month. The commission will also make a decision regarding locations of windsurfing and food concessions before issue the kiteboarding RFP.
The Port hopes to make a decision on which schools to approve by December.