Our View: A working waterfront

By: Astorian Staff - Oct 20, 2019
Source: The Astorian

There is a nice symmetry to Fort George Brewery’s $8 million purchase of Astoria Warehousing.

Chris Nemlowill, the brewery’s co-founder, named the holding company for the new project Blue Jumpsuit LLC, a nod to the uniforms workers used to wear when they labeled cans for salmon.

The future of the sprawling property on the waterfront was in doubt when Astoria Warehousing closed last year and relocated to Kent, Washington.

Fort George’s purchase is a comforting sign of local investment in Astoria, with the potential to restore some of the 25 jobs lost when Astoria Warehousing moved away.

But we hope people read Edward Stratton’s story on the purchase very carefully.

The project would likely not have happened without $1 million in state lottery money to clean up old petroleum pollution. State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, was able to steer the money to Business Oregon in a “Christmas tree bill” for local projects at the end of the legislative session.

The state money made it easier for Fort George to get a loan from U.S. Bank and tap into the federal New Markets Tax Credit program through regional lender Craft3.

Adam Zimmerman, Craft3’s CEO, put the deal into perspective. “This is going to be a pretty iconic project,” he said. “It is difficult to do rural manufacturing projects pretty much anywhere in the U.S.”

All of this heavy political and financial lifting was necessary for a popular brewery to revive canning at a place that housed canning for decades.

One of the core principles behind the Riverfront Vision Plan is to encourage a mix of uses that support a working waterfront and the city’s economy.

That might not seem obvious to people who have been following the debates at City Hall over the past few years on Bridge Vista, the section of the plan that covers Portway Street to Second Street in Uniontown and includes the Astoria Warehousing property. Much of the emphasis has been on preserving views of the Columbia River and the Astoria Bridge and restricting development.

We hope the City Council recognizes this imbalance and the importance of a working waterfront to the city’s prosperity.

On Monday night, the council is expected to approve changes to Bridge Vista that further restrict building height and scale to preserve views and public access. The changes also include plan districts for the Astoria Warehousing property and the Port of Astoria’s West Mooring Basin.

Fort George and the Port would get five years to create master plans that — if accepted by the city — could bypass the development restrictions in Bridge Vista.

This is an essential escape hatch. The plan districts would allow some code flexibility at property in Bridge Vista that is most suited to industrial-scale development, as well as mixed-use projects that could resuscitate a fading marina.

As the Fort George purchase shows, free market forces alone are often not enough to make small manufacturing projects pencil out. If Astoria is serious about a working waterfront — blue jumpsuits that represent living-wage jobs, not nostalgia for the past — city leaders should make sure the Riverfront Vision Plan reflects a regulatory balance.