KALAMA — The two-story market in the works at the Port of Kalama is just the latest in a nearly two-decade effort to expand tourism-related business and activities on the waterfront.
Plans for the Mountain Timber Market have grown over the past few years, in more ways than one.
The prior estimate of $5 to $6 million more than doubled to about $12 to $14 million because of the expanded building size coupled with rising prices, labor shortages and availability of construction materials, according to the port.
The market’s footprint also expanded from 18,000 square feet to about 32,665 square feet.
The project maintains one of its original goals of being a small business incubator, with 11 permanent store spaces and 24 vendor stalls on the first floor. Although the idea to include lodging and a restaurant on the second floor was included originally, the project added a second-floor conference room, a first-floor distillery and courtyard area for food carts.
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The market is a capital investment, funded by port earnings and reserves. Port Commissioner Randy Sweet said while everyone would like the project to be cheaper, “that’s not the way it is.”
“We made a commitment to this, and fortunately, just finished a record year in sales and net income,” he said. “We’ve been able to put money aside, and I think it’s necessary to move forward with this project.”
Sweet said he would be more reluctant about the expensive project if it was funded by taxpayer money. The port does not levy a tax.
The market has moved forward following the port’s agreement with American Cruise Lines to build a $4.5 million small cruise ship dock near Marine Park. American Cruise Lines is contributing $1 million to the project, and the company will receive preferred usage for the cruise line’s small vessels and sternwheelers.
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American Cruise Lines operates river cruises on the Columbia and Snake rivers and is the only river cruise that docks in Kalama. Currently, ships anchor at the beach at Ahles Point, about half a mile from Marine Park. The port has been working with American Cruise Lines since 2019 to develop a dock as an alternative to the beach access.
“ACL is a tremendous partner and the tourism generated from our partnership will result in economic benefits our local businesses will enjoy for many years to come,” Commissioner Patrick Harbison said in the port’s most recent newsletter.
The small cruise ship dock is slated to be finished at the end of February. The port plans to go out to bid for the market project in February, kick off construction in the spring and wrap up in 2023.
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Sweet said the port has been envisioning this kind of project for several years since the Legislature allowed tourism as an activity for ports.
“When that happened, we saw the opportunity to expand tourism here in the Kalama area and at the port and took advantage of it,” he said.
Nearly 15 years ago, the port began planning for a restaurant on the Columbia River, as well as an interpretive center to learn about Kalama’s history.
In 2014, the port’s new office building and Interpretive Center opened, followed by McMenamins Kalama Harbor Lodge in April 2018.
The Mountain Timber Market and cruise ship dock fit the scheme for the park, Sweet said.
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The port is also planning to replace the pedestrian bridge linking West Frontage Road and North Hendrickson Drive. That project is in the early design stages and likely will move forward in 2023, according to the port.
“It’s going to be a boost for all of Kalama, bringing tourism dollars into the community,” Sweet said.