Discover Development was given the go-ahead Monday to purchase the Sunshine Mill Winery property on the eastern edge of town and continue with improvement plans.
The Columbia Gateway Urban Renewal Agency board of directors, comprised of city councilors, voted Monday to sell the 1.46-acre site to the limited liability corporation. Discover will pay $305,123.69 for the property and the cost of streetscape improvements at the east end of town.
In addition, Discover will repay the $600,000 loan granted by urban renewal after a lease was signed in 2009 and used to repurpose the facility, including converting the warehouse into a bottling plant. Also listed on the lease is TGE, LLC, commonly known as Quenett, the name of the business’ signature wine.
The sale of the property is expected to close by May 15, 2015, with the loan repaid by Oct. 14, 2014.
Jim Stroud, owner of Dinty’s market and several downtown properties, is so enthused by the repurposing of the old flour mill at 901 East Second Street that he recently purchased an additional lot. He told The Dalles City Council Monday that an enterprise like the winery is exactly what is needed to spur other business growth at the eastern edge of town.
“Business people have a vision; they see an opportunity and they grab it,” he said. “A business person is going to say, ‘Sunshine Mill is really doing some great things and that is going to provide some opportunities for me.’”
He made those remarks while testifying at a city council meeting March 11 against formation of an Economic Improvement District. If the district is approved at an April 22 hearing, each tax lot – capped at three per owner – will be assessed $250 for each of three years to pay the wages of an executive director for The Dalles Main Street Program, a local nonprofit organization.
Written objections submitted by April 12 from the owners of properties comprising 33 percent of the assessed value for the district can stop its enactment.
On Monday, James Martin and his daughter, Natasha, representing Discover Development, gave a presentation to the urban renewal board about future plans.
James said washing and repainting of the warehouse would begin in the near future and involve a four- to eight-month process. He said the project had proven more difficult than expected because residue from the emissions of passing trains and years of grime baked onto the structure by the sun was proving resistant to normal cleaning methods.
He said the exterior of the building was going have to be soaked with chemicals that dissolved the dirty coating, make it easier to remove.
“Having it continue to be unattractive is bothersome to all of us so we’re looking for a solution,” he said.
There was no point in cleaning and repainting the 12 grain silos on the site, said Martin, because foam insulation that would be added to accommodate 42 hotel rooms would make the outside surface uneven and even less attractive.
He said Discover’s plan to improve the aesthetics and advertise the business was to hang a mesh screen over the silos that are each about 125 feet high. The screen would have faint outlines of wine bottles to reflect the business.
Martin said, by purchasing the property, Discovery can proceed with obtaining financing for a three-phased development that culminates in about five years with development of the hotel.
He said it will be the first hotel in the world to have grape crushing taking place on the top floor and the juice funneled by a glass tube down through common areas of the seven silos used for the hotel and into barrels, where it would be left to ferment. The basement would also be the location of a tasting room and a restaurant where guests can enjoy a good meal complemented by fine wine.
Adding to the ambiance of a stay on one of the seven floors of rooms in a silo, said Martin, would be round beds, tubs and other features to accommodate the circular circumference.
Mayor Steve Lawrence, who chairs the urban renewal board, said he stayed in one of the 196 rooms in 36 silos of the converted former Quaker Oats Mill in Akron, Ohio, and was very comfortable.
“I stayed in that hotel and it works great, so it can be done,” he said.
Natasha is chief of business development for the Sunshine Mill Winery and told the urban renewal board Monday that the hotel would follow two other phases of development. She had given the same briefing to the Urban Renewal Advisory Committee Feb. 26 and gained support for the expansion.
First on the list, said Martin, was to construct a lab and production facility next to the existing warehouse, a project that is expected to be completed within two years.
Next was the construction of a dry goods storage facility and marketing offices on the property Discover hopes to acquire that once housed the Tum-A-Lum Lumber Company. Martin said that work should be done within three years.
Meanwhile, the Martins are overseeing planting of a new vineyard on 450 acres near Emerson loop on Fifteenmile Road that will employ at least 17 full-time workers. The hospitality end of the business is expected to create 50-70 new jobs, in addition to the 64 employees currently bottling Copa Di Vino, wine by the glass, and running the tasting room.
“This vineyard will almost double the quantity of vineyards in the Columbia Gorge region,” stated a written statement presented Feb. 26 to the advisory committee on behalf of James, who was away on a business trip.
He listed these two major highlights of the Sunshine Mill’s presence:
• Outside investments of more than $4 million were acquired to make the winery plans a reality. That funding included federal stimulus dollars to construct the roundabout at Brewery Grade in order to accommodate increased traffic as a result of the mill’s redevelopment.
• The project has been attracting attention from national news outlets and magazines, thereby drawing more visitors into the area to shop and recreate.
“It has always been the Sunshine Mill Winery’s goal to make The Dalles a destination location,” said Martin. “We’re happy to have grown our business here and not in California or someplace else.”