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Renewal keys other changes

Michael Leash plans to turn The Vault Bistro and Lounge into “the largest sports bar in the Columbia Gorge” as part of the redevelopment of the Granada block in downtown The Dalles.

Leash, principal for Rapoza Development, which wants to site a high- end hotel between The Vault and historic theater, has already started work on his business. He said the old “Wagon” sign is being removed, as are the old fire escape and awnings.

“The new concept will feature 25 high-definition TVs and five large screen high definition projectors, plus 25-plus beers on tap and 25 new menu items,” he said.

Leash is consulting with an unnamed celebrity chef to develop the new menu and recently met with that individual in Las Vegas, Nev. He said the new sports bar will have two levels for a total of about 6,000 square feet of space and feature four to six tournament-style pool tables, top video games and All TV professional and college football, baseball and basketball sports ticket packages.

The Vault will also have a stage for live music and about 1,500 square feet of outdoor space.

“All of the changes to The Vault will be a great addition to the master plan for the Granada block anchored by the hotel and Granada theater,” said Leash.

“Having a Sport Bar connected to the hotel will be a great attraction for guest staying at the hotel.”

The legal agreement that sets the stage for final plans to be made on the hotel will be reviewed Monday by the Columbia Gateway Urban Renewal Agency.

Leash told the agency’s advisory panel Tuesday that representatives from Hilton Hotels and Resorts, CSHQA Architects of Boise, Idaho, and Wave Hospitality Advisors, Inc., will be present for the April 22 meeting. The board, comprised of city councilors, convenes following their regular meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. on the third floor of city hall, 313 Court Street

“We believe that we’ll have an opportunity to present information and answer questions,” said Leash after the advisory body voted unanimously to send the Disposition and Development Agreement forward.

The plan negotiated between city staffers and Rapoza puts renovation of the historic Granada theater at the top of the work list. Leash said having that facility available for rentals as soon as possible would be a good business move.

“There’s an upside to getting that done quickly — it gets cleaned up, it looks better and it just makes sense to put it up front,” he said.

In the 62-page binding agreement, Rapoza will have until 2025 to come up with a $365,406 balloon payment on the Granada, which will have its historic features kept intact. Until that time, the company will make 1 percent interest-only payments and urban renewal will pay up to $200,000 for upgrades to the sprinkler and HVAC systems.

The hotel itself will be built on the lot that now houses the former Recreation Building, next to the Granada, and its parking lot. The $22 million project is slated to have conference and activity space of at least 3,500 square feet that may incorporate the Blue Building, or a new structure on that parcel.

Although urban renewal will provide $50,000 if Rapoza chooses to demolish the Blue Building, local archeologist Eric Gleason asked Tuesday that it and the Recreation Building be left standing.

“I just wanted to thank the city and developer for pushing the restoration of the Granada, I think that’s a good plan,” he said before asking that the same protections be given the other properties.

“I guess I’m not understanding why the Recreation has to come down,” he said. “It’s not in the best shape but it was a feasible bowling alley until a few years ago.”

About the Blue building he said, “It always been one of the (urban renewal) goals to redevelop buildings and I’d like to see that $50,000 used as a stimulus for (improving) that building instead of for tearing it down.”

Rapoza proposes to purchase the Recreation building from urban renewal for $356,250 and the Blue building for $380,000. That was the amount paid for these properties by the city.

Nolan Young, city manager, told Gleason that the Recreation building, which has been vacant for some time, would be taken down by the agency even if Rapoza backed away from its plans. He said demolition of the structure would not take place until construction was set to begin on the hotel because the city didn’t want to leave an unattractive lot in place any longer than necessary.

“Time, itself, has made redevelopment of the space highly unlikely,” he said.

At a previous meeting, Dan Durow, former city planning director who now serves as economic development specialist, described the Granada block as a “substantial blight.” He said 75 percent of the buildings in that area were vacant or underutilized.

Gleason stated the belief Tuesday that restoration of the Recreation building would draw tourists back to the block and pave the way for new economic development opportunities.

“In the past, we’ve treated archeological items as hazardous waste; something we want to get rid of,” he said. “But this is a fantastic site that has great potential for a tourist attraction as well. If we overlook this archeological site or we destroy this archeological site, we’re overlooking a resource that could make this development viable.”

He succeeded at getting Rapoza to change its design plans for the Recreation property after mounting a campaign to protect items unearthed during an archeological excavation. Broken opium pipes, pieces of plate and chicken bones were found during that analysis and Gleason sought state help to have the property declared “significant” so protection guidelines were enacted. That classification required that Rapoza rework its plans to avoid disturbing the ground where the items were found in order to proceed with its construction timeline.

Leash said 52 underground parking spaces have now been eliminated and patrons of the hotel will use the parking garage that will be built by urban renewal. The agency will pay up to $3 million for construction of that multi-level structure and Rapoza will provide funding to reserve spaces for guests.

Jason Pasternak of Wave was present for the April 16 meeting and told the advisory board that a business plan will be finalized to present to investors as soon as the development agreement has been signed. He said preliminary plans had been fluid to accommodate the changes needed as unexpected challenges were encountered. He said there had been considerable interest among the financial community in the project — but investors wanted the archeological situation settled before making a commitment.

“I think with things getting resolved, we can button up the refinancing package,” said Pasternak. “We’re working to make this building as cost effective as possible to attract that capital.”

Leash declined to comment about what percentage of financing that Rapoza had secured but said he was confident that investors would support the project.

The hotel is slated to be completed by Jan. 1, 2015, although that timeline can be extended to ccommodate unexpected challenges that might arise during construction.

Gleason reminded the advisory board that the Commodore parking lot, set to be redeveloped if the hotel needs more rooms or wants to establish another enterprise, was also archeologically significant.

Leash said that the lot was part of the second phase of construction so there was plenty of time to work on mitigation measures. The Commodore, under the new agreement, has to be purchased by Rapoza within five years of the Granada trading hands for the $102,000 that was originally paid by the city.

The project site consists of six parcels and during the first phase of development, a staging area for construction will be set up within the right-of-way on East First Street between the east side of Court Street to the east end of the hotel site; and Washington Street between East First and the alley between East First and Second streets.

Rapoza will receive a credit toward system development charges for water and sewer at the rate of 1 percent for each new permanent full-time jobs created by the opening of the hotel. Leash expects 30-40 full-time employees to be hired to run the hotel and another 20 jobs created in the restaurant. In addition, part-time workers will be hired for special events.

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