Gary Rains, development director for The Dalles, is facilitating a variety of new projects to help revitalize the downtown blocks and bring new jobs to town.
“There’s a lot going on,” he said. “People are going to look back on 2016 and go, ‘Wow, what happened!’ It’s going to be a transformative year.”
One of the bigger projects in the works is Tokola Development’s proposal to convert Tony’s Town and Country at the corner of Federal and Second streets into 50 apartments. The complex would have retail outlets on the ground floor.
Rain said an agreement has been signed by city officials and Tokola for exclusive negotiations involving the two privately owned tax lots.
“This will be the first vertical housing project that has gone in since the council made it a goal,” he said.
“What we are looking to do is create housing for professionals to live and work downtown in a way that preserves retail space and creates new opportunities for businesses.”
An appraisal to set the value of the properties that take up about half the block is the next step in the development process.
Rains said the Columbia Gateway Urban Renewal Agency may purchase the properties to get the more than $10 million project started.
He said that investment would be the 15 percent public share for a sustainable housing project with lower rents.
The developer, as the owner, would be responsible for 85 percent of costs.
Although concerns have been expressed by a group of local residents that the historic mural painted on the west end of the building would end up destroyed, Rains said that is not the plan.
He said city officials are committed to either preserving the same image – even if it is reproduced on another building — or having a new mural created.
“The mayor and city are committed to making sure that there is a mural there,” said Rains. “As soon as we get the appraisal we’ll start negotiating the development disposition agreement that will make that one of the conditions.”
He said the developer will also be required to provide a parking space for each apartment in the building.
Rains said Tokola, a Portland-based firm, became interested in tackling another urban housing project after talking to Matthew Klebes, executive director of The Dalles Main Street, at a conference last fall.
“He talked about all the exciting things we have happening here and they wanted to be part of that,” said Rains.
If all goes well, Rains said construction on the housing/retail complex could begin this fall and be finished in about 18 months. Three proposals for redevelopment of the Granada block arrived at city hall on Tuesday. The city extended the date for developers to submit conceptual plans from Dec. 31 to Jan. 19.
Rains said the submittals will be reviewed to see if they “pass muster.” Anything missing or incomplete will be requested to round out the packet before it is presented to the urban renewal agency.
The agency, comprised of city councilors, decided to invite new offers after choosing not to renew the exclusive agreement with Rapoza Development for revitalization of the Granada block.
The project had been in the planning stages for several years and city officials chose to open the field on all three properties to other developers. Rapoza had been working to raise $24 million in funds to site a Hilton Garden Inn and conference center.
The private firm was required to preserve the historic character of the Granada theater as part of the deal, something that Rains said will be asked of any developer.
The National Neon Sign Museum in the former Elks building at the corner of Third and Court streets could have a limited opening by fall, said Rains.
He said six meetings have been held to develop architectural plans and work through renovation issues. The facility will be nationally recognized and have at least eight neon signs mounted on downtown buildings to add interest through walking tours.
To avoid safety and vandalism issues, Rains said the lighted signs will be mounted near the tops of buildings and in places not easily accessible.
“We’d like some of these to be visual from the freeway,” he said. “We need more exposure to get people to come downtown. There are so many great things happening that no one ever sees.”
He said Freebridge Brewing owned by Steve and Laurie Light just opened in the historic Mint building to a full house and is already drawing crowds
Rains provided a brief synopsis on the following business and service ventures in the works:
• Legends Cider of Bend wants to set up a commercial operation near The Dalles waterfront and is awaiting its federal liquor license to move forward with that plan.
• Montiras Asian Grocery will open in two weeks across from Rivertap on the east end of town (Second and Madison streets). Owners Montira and Ken Sommerfelt also have Montiras Thai Cuisine at 302 W. Second Street.
• Sedition Brewing Company, previously known as Defiance Brewing, is expected to turn on the tap at 208 Laughlin Street by the end of January. Rains said owners Aaron and Kelly Lee have kept the original Ice House doors and many other aspects of the historic building.
• Major renovations at the Craig Building, corner of Federal and Second Streets, are expected to be completed by April. Once the project of about $750,000 is completed, Mid-Columbia Medical Center will move in office workers and make the facility the new headquarters for the Mid-Columbia Health Foundation. Retail space will be available on about two-thirds of the bottom floor.
• The grand opening of Gorge Community Music in the former location of Columbia River Music at 410 E. Second Street, Suite 1, is scheduled for Feb. 14. Rains said the business will rent instruments to students and others the same as Greg and Shirley Weast did before their retirement last summer.
• Rains said offers have been made on vacant property at the west end of Water’s Edge for a commercial endeavor.
• Liberty Tapworks, owned by Brandie Drake, is setting up shop in the old Crown Prints location at 517 E. Second Street. She hopes to open on Super Bowl weekend with six cider and 24 beer taps.
• Two health services providers are looking to settle somewhere downtown. These discussions are still in the preliminary stages — no space has yet been chosen — so Rains said development plans have not yet been put together. He said one of the interested parties would like to establish an urgent care clinic.
• Oregon Trail Games has moved from 319 East Second Street to expanded space at 421 East Second Street (former Whole Ball of Yarn location).
• A rebar construction company is looking for space in The Dalles but Rains said it is unknown how many jobs will be created.
• A distillery out of Seattle is also seeking space for a commercial operation of clear spirits.
“We’ve had offers made on several properties for other businesses, including an organic grocery that is looking to set up shop downtown and could soon close the deal,” said Rains.
He said it has become apparent with all of the activity going on in the business world that there needs to be a “one stop” location for entrepreneurs to get assistance with licensing, payment of fees, and meeting regulatory guidelines at the local, state and federal levels of government.
“It’s so complicated and fraught with change for people to get through the system the way it is,” said Rains. “That can lead to misunderstanding and delays that make it difficult for people to deal with —there needs to be better coordination.”
He said having an ombudsman available to walk people through the system and avoid road blocks would also be beneficial.
“The mayor is championing a public relations campaign to keep people informed about all of the things that are happening here,” he said.
Rains helped establish the Gorge Angel Investor Network and said a local business investor group that helps companies get started would be very helpful to spur economic growth.