“I think we’re bringing a lot of life to the building,” said Commodore Thor Sorenson of Astoria Yacht Club, standing in his group’s new meeting place on the top floor of the Chinook Building overlooking the West End Mooring Basin.
A panoramic view of the Port of Astoria, Cannery Pier Hotel, Astoria Bridge and marina beckons just outside the windows lining the building’s northern and western face.
“That’s the magic part,” he said, peering down on the marina, in which club members hold about 10 percent of the moorages. “There’s nothing a boater likes better than being close to his boats.”
Homeless since 2011, the club moved into the top floor of the Port-owned Chinook Building, perching in the Pacific Room overlooking most members’ boats and adding a jolt of life to the building, at one point on the verge of being torn down for a conference center.
“We were kind of nomads, because the place we’d been for 50 years was no longer available to us,” said Sorenson about the club, which was displaced by city of Astoria offices in August. “We went up and down the waterfront, looking for properties. We kept looking at this space because it’s where all our boats are.”
The city of Astoria, which owns the former Yacht Club building, provided space to the club. When City Hall underwent renovation, the city moved under the Old Youngs Bay Bridge, and the club started bouncing around town.
Sorenson said the city was good about letting them use public buildings for meetings, but by November 2011 they were fully in the search for a permanent home.
“None of our members fit the stereotypical yacht type,” said Sorenson, adding that they work on each other’s boats and jointly own a racing vessel. The group didn’t have the money to rent out an already restored meeting room, but had contractors help fix one up.
The Chinook Building
Space in the Chinook Building costs about 75 cents per square foot. In May, the Port Commission voiced its support of the club moving into the Pacific Room on the second floor.
“What better tenant to have at the West End Mooring Basin than the guys who would be looking down on their own boats?” said Commissioner Floyd Holcom at that meeting.
The upstairs space, part of a building that in the mid 2000s was almost torn down to make way for a conference center, was in need of serious maintenance. In 2008, then port Executive Director Jack Crider had decided on a “cheap face-lift” to keep the building, also known as the Red Lion Annex, up and running.
In June, the Yacht Club finalized a five-year lease on 1,436 square feet that stipulated it invest $35,000 in refurbishing the building. In exchange, it received a lower rent for the first five years – 12 cents per square foot, or about $172.
Sorenson said the club started with plywood floors, missing ceiling tiles and insulation falling out everywhere. Members first subdivided the space to a suitable size, built an alcove to a second required emergency exit, improved alarms and brought everything up to code.
“We worked all that summer and into fall,” said Sorenson, adding it took the group four months to finish. In October, members held their first meeting at the new location.
Next to the group’s new meeting room is the still available 3,500-square-foot Chinook Room, also in need of a serious face-lift, and an 864-square-foot kitchen space.
Sorenson said the club is still looking to install its own kitchen from scratch. He said another hope is that the presence of the club and its approximately 60 members at the marina will lead to more boat owners joining and more foot traffic.
Down by the
The Chinook Building, originally an equipment shed for the Union Fish Co., sits just above the marina, at a nexus of U.S. highways 101 and 30, overlooking the Columbia River. In a city famous for parking troubles, it also has plenty of spaces right next to it.
“At this time NW Wild Products has the largest footprint,” said Mike Weston, director of business development and operations for the Port. “Landing the Yacht Club was a significant increase in tenancy rates.”
The building – out of which the Port had moved all its tenants in 2007 to its main offices – includes Tony and Ann Kischner’s offices for the Bridgewater Bistro, insurance, real estate and tax consulting firms, charter companies – in total, nine tenants take up 65 percent of the available space and make the Port about $4,000 a month in lease revenue.
“I love people walking by buying their fish,” said Janet Weidman, whose Astoria Real Estate firm has moved in and out and back into the Chinook Building over the past decade. “I like the space because of the activity.”
Tenents said the Chinook Building does not have the foot traffic of downtown, but the parking is plentiful, except during Buoy 10 season.
“It’s a marine environment, which isn’t good for everybody,” said Ray Raihala, who owns an insurance agency on the first floor. “The prices are reasonable and the amenities are good.”
“The biggest disadvantage is that nobody can find us,” said Amanda Cordero, owner of NW Wild Products at 354 Industry St, facing the river for the past three years. “We’re allowed to have a limited amount of signage.”
Cordero, who is expanding her business to include indoor seating and a bigger seafood display, said the Port has been a good landlord, a sentiment echoed by others in the building.
The Port is working on having a sign built for tenants on U.S. Highway 30, leading more people down to the river, which Sorenson said the Astoria Yacht Club is trying to help bring the Astoria Regatta closer to.
“By definition, regatta is a series of races held in the water,” said Sorenson, adding that the club is working to have its annual boat parade right in front of downtown Astoria for the community’s enjoyment.
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.