River city success

River city success

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Above: After a years-long effort, the first river cruise ship is expected to tie up at The Dalles' new dock on Sept. 17, one of many ways the city is trying to attract new visitors.
Below: A lack of parking has always made life tough on the Granada Theater, but an urban-renewal project could breathe new life into the theater and surrounding buildings.
//Photos by Sierra Breshears
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That kick into high gear has been fueled, in part, by efforts begun years ago to diversify The Dalles’ employment base, which since the 1950s had been dominated by large aluminum plants. The last of those folded for good in 2000.

“The port got its marching orders in the mid-1980s to try and diversify our industrial base,” says Andrea Klaas, executive director of the Port of The Dalles.

Over the ensuing two decades, the port acquired land, developed it and sold it. Klaas says in that time the port was able to facilitate the creation of close to 1,500 jobs by finding homes in the port district for companies like Kmart and Columbia PhytoTechnology, a maker of freeze-dried fruit and vegetable powders that moved to the port this summer. More than 45 businesses are currently located in the port’s industrial area, including Google, which now has three buildings on its site and employs close to 150 people.

Outside the port district, other long-term projects aimed at breathing new life into The Dalles are on the edge of fruition. This summer The Dalles will christen a $2.9 million dock on the Columbia River for light shipping and as a place for river cruise ships to tie up. The first ship is scheduled to pull up Sept. 17, according to city manager Nolan Young, who’s spent the better part of 15 years working on redevelopment projects in the city.

Disembarking tourists will walk a short stretch of The Dalles Riverfront Trail —when completed by 2014, it will run 10 miles from the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center east to The Dalles Dam — and stroll below Interstate 84 via an underpass built in 2004 to reconnect the city to the riverfront. They’ll pass the Lewis & Clark Festival Park, a $2.7 million plaza for community events set to open in early September; it and the dock have been in the works for 12 years. Just two blocks farther, they’ll hit downtown The Dalles and, hopefully, spend some time and money at local businesses.

Mark Linebarger is a 20-year resident of The Dalles who owns the historic Baldwin Saloon just across from the new plaza. While he’s a touch skeptical of how much impact the park and new dock will have on his business, he says he welcomes the improvements.

“What’s good for The Dalles is good for us,” he says.

Like the Sunshine Mill, downtown The Dalles is a study in contrasts. Storefronts straight out of the 1950s — a vacuum-cleaner shop, an old barbershop and a dated JC Penney — mingle with more contemporary establishments: a yoga studio, a French bistro and at least two wineries. Dilapidated buildings and empty spaces mix with renovated historic landmarks, like an 1883 courthouse that’s now a brewpub, an old Masonic lodge called the Commodore and Civic Auditorium, which have all been the focus of public and private efforts to reinvigorate the downtown while preserving its historic flavor.

The next urban-renewal project will focus around the historic Granada Theater, a 1930s-era theater in the heart of downtown bordered by several other vacant buildings. The project has seen several false starts over the years, but Young says the city is currently working with a private developer on plans for a possible hotel and conference center complex.