Archive | August, 2010

Watch for changes to I-84 exits in central Hood River

31 Aug

As you know, the extensive modifications at Exit 64 are causing significant traffic impacts, including the dangerous backup of traffic in the eastbound off-ramp and merge lane.

Oregon Department of Transportation is about to close off traffic merging between Exit 63 and Exit 64.

After the change, eastbound traffic that wants to reach the bridge or Hwy 35 will leave I-84 at Exit 63, pass through the light and continue into the (former) merge lane to Exit 64.

I asked Mark Baker, consultant with Oregon Bridge Delivery Partners, when the merge lane would close. Here’s answer as of Monday afternoon:

“Stu, it’s a construction job, so I’m afraid dates of that nature are often a bit of a moving target. We’re hoping to turn on the traffic signals this week, then change the traffic flow early next week, but I can’t authoritatively give exact dates right now. I might have more clarity by this time tomorrow and will definitely let you know if I do.”

So, stay tuned. I’ll post updates when I get them, to make sure we all do what we can to avoid an injury — or worse — accident at that interchange. Meanwhile, here’s a clip from the ODOT project website:

** I-84 at milepost 64 (Hood River): The contractor is preparing to shift traffic and demolish the old eastbound bridge. Expect new traffic signals at the freeway ramp junctions beginning Tuesday, Aug. 31. Expect single-lane closures westbound around the clock. The westbound right lane must exit. The speed limit is reduced to 55 mph. Watch for roadside work crews and equipment around the clock. Watch for vehicles entering and exiting the travel lanes. Please drive safely through the work zone.

** Button Bridge Road at I-84: Expect new traffic signals at the freeway ramp junctions beginning Tuesday, Aug. 31. Watch for changing traffic patterns and traffic controlled by flaggers. Watch for roadside work crews and equipment around the clock. Watch for construction vehicles entering and exiting the travel lanes.

A new year, and Meadows — and Chamber — pursue new winter tourism marketing efforts

27 Aug

Let’s talk tourism. In particular, let’s talk about the longtime marriage between Mt. Hood Meadows and the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce to promote tourism during the winter.

To use the tabloid vernacular, after 15 years of wedded bliss, the two parties are splitsville.

Since introducing its winter marketing program, Meadows has pooled its funds with co-op dollars from the Chamber’s Visitor Council and buy-in funds from Hood River County hotels that wanted 1) publicity in Meadows marketing efforts, and 2) the chance to sell their winter guests discounted lift tickets.

The current Visitor Council budget includes $30,000 to pay Meadows for its efforts last winter. But Meadows chose not to ask for support this year.

It’s just one of several changes around the winter marketing effort. Meadows will stop producing and distributing 110,000 copies of its destination guide. The $25,000 cost for that publication, plus administrative costs for managing lift ticket sales, suggested the need for fine tuning.

“We couldn’t verify that it was essential to skiers’ decision-making,” says Dave Tragethon, marketing vice president for Meadows. “One to two percent of people said they used the guide.”

Instead, it will print 15,000 copies of a magazine, and make it available online via PDF. Advertising in that magazine will be opened up to anyone — not just Hood River County properties.

As Meadows goes it alone, it isn’t bailing on Hood River county lodgers. People who rent rooms — everyone from B&Bs to the county;’s largest hotel, the Best Western Hood River Inn — will still be able to buy in to the discount lift ticket program.

Ticket prices for hotel guests will rise from $39 last year to $49 this year for adults, which compares with a planned walk-up rate of $69 for a single shift ticket, or $74 for the day-night combo. Lodging properties now can add $1 to the ticket price to cover their handling costs, something they couldn’t do before.

But Meadows is now charging lodging properties a flat $1,500 to participate. For hotels, that represents a savings when you know that previously, they paid $50 a room. For the Hood River Inn, that meant it paid over five times the new rate to cover its 158 rooms.

The basic buy-in rate for smaller properties was $300. Owners of B&Bs weren’t happy to see their costs quintuple, especially in a down economy when room occupancy has declined.

Mary Pellegrini, owner of the Old Parkdale Inn, raised her concerns with Tragethon. She understands his rationale, that a single fee treats all properties the same, since each got the same exposure in Meadows’ marketing efforts.

But she doesn’t see all lodging properties having equal potential downstream benefit. Her property, for example, has three rooms.

During better times, she says, she would sell from 30 to 50 rooms a winter through the Meadows program. “It was definitely a good program for us,” she says.

In the last couple of years, she figures it has helped her sell just 15 to 20 extra rooms during the winter. She doesn’t blame Meadows. It’s the economy, plain and simple. Fewer people stay. And those who do sometimes stay fewer days.

She figures three of those 15 to 20 rooms would cover the buy-in under the old rate plan. Now she would be lucky to break even.

After hearing her concerns and those of 18 other B&B owners affiliated as the Columbia River Gorge-Hood River Bed & Breakfast Association, Meadows modified its policy to let the association buy in at $1,500. But it will have to handle disbursal and accounting for sale of all lift tickets.

For at least one vacation rental property management firm, the new pricing model limits potential value of the marketing alliance to its own business.

“There is a limit as to how much our guests are willing to pay for a ski ticket to make it worth their while to come to Hood River for a ski vaca as opposed to another area,” says Libby Taylor, of Hood River Vacation Rentals. “We are nearing that limit. In the past, Meadows’ discount lift tickets were a good value.”

Meanwhile, the Chamber is taking a new tack with the money it won’t be putting into the Meadows program. New marketing coordinator Kerry Cobb has developed what she calls the Bundle Up for Winter promotion. It will be promoted with rack cards, distributed through normal point-of-pickup channels. The meat of the promotion will reside online, after the Chamber launches its new web site (they hope in October).

Visitors will be able to click on a “deals” icon and see a list of lodging properties and member businesses offering specials or packages for winter guests. They can print out a coupon to capture the deals. The promotion will run November through March.

Cobb presented her idea to the Visitor Council on Wednesday, Aug. 25, and got strong support to charge ahead. Tragethon, at Meadows, thinks that’s great. He believes the winter marketing effort helped shift public perception about Hood River as a winter destination.

He said the first year that Meadows discounted lift tickets for lodging properties on both sides of the mountain, maybe 85 percent of purchases occurred on the south side. In the last year, 70 percent of sales were in Hood River.

Maturation of the city as a year-round tourist destination — with fashion, art, jewelry and sporting goods shops, the burgeoning wine and craft beer industries, and abundant fine dining — the city is on the radar of winter tourists.

“Portland gets Hood River,” Tragethon says. “I think Hood River is a normal and natural place for an extended stay. Fifteen years ago, downtown Hood River didn’t have the same appeal that it does now.”

Despite claims of Hood River company, Mayo Clinic experts dispute benefits of vibration therapy

27 Aug

Vibrate your way to health? Lose stubborn belly fat … with TurboSonic? Some people — such as the Hood River company that makes and sells  TurboSonic — would love for you to believe that this high-tech machine is the solution to your ills. TurboSonic USA president Jim Cole, with offices down on Wasco but the showroom inside his Big Gym, touts the benefits of TurboSonic in a new press release.

But what’s the research say? Americans, after all, are always eager to plunk down money for a quick cure, if it means they can keep on eating and parking their butts in front of the tube. Remember the Exer-Stik? Yikes.

Real-world medical types at the widely respected Mayo Clinic have a slightly different opinion on vibration weight loss. Rather than doing a whole lot of good — they say they could have mild benefit — the medical experts say such devices may also cause you some harm. Bottom line, you shouldn’t look to them as a panacea — the quick and easy way to replace what is still widely accepted as the best route to health and weight loss, through regular aerobic and resistance exercise.

In short? Jiggle if you wish, but it’s no silver bullet. Except at the cash register. Of the people who make them. And post press releases to help sell them.

Caveat emptor.

Industry analyst very bullish on potential Insitu UAV sales

23 Aug

Interesting — and very optimistic — look in Defense News online at Insitu’s niche in the military unmanned aircraft market. Lexington Institute analyst Daniel Gouré says “Insitu’s small, quiet aircraft will ‘start to press up against some of the’ capabilities and missions of bigger UAVs such as the Predator and Reaper.”

The article continues:

“Gouré said the miniaturization trend also opens the door for sales to small militaries who want cost-effective, reliable and small planes as their primary UAVs.

“I honestly think it’s going to be hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, over time” in international sales, said the analyst.

“Everybody knows they’re going to have to get into the UAV game” and buying Insitu’s planes is far cheaper than developing a domestic UAV or buying Predator or Reaper style systems, he said.

SR 14 traffic impact update

21 Aug

Coming up this week for travelers using SR 14 between Bingen and Carson, Wash, courtesy of WSDOT:

“Cable netting installation work continues at Dog Mountain.

Traffic impacts for August 21-27

Dog Mountain (milepost 54)

Monday, August 23 – Thursday, August 26: SR 14 will be fully CLOSED for three two-hour intervals. The schedule is as follows:

  • Before 7 a.m. – OPEN
  • 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. – OPEN, single-lane traffic
  • 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. – CLOSED
  • 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. – OPEN, single-lane traffic
  • 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. – CLOSED
  • 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. – OPEN, single-lane traffic
  • 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. – CLOSED
  • 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. – OPEN, single-lane traffic
  • After 5 p.m. – OPEN

Friday, August 27: No scheduled traffic impacts.

White Salmon (milepost 64)

No scheduled traffic impacts.

Inbound and outbound and all around the Hood

21 Aug

Tripping and tripping over, how did I miss it? Well, it’s baaack. Check out Emily Reed’s Interesting Gorge project, and prepare your program … Coming Pub Talk via the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network is seeking presenters (i.e. people who have a business and want/need funding) for its September program … Seattle travel writer Crai Bower visits Portland and Hood River and talks about his view that there is a coming explosion of bicycling (can higher gas prices be much ahead of that?) in KUOW interview … Full Sail has again (since 1990) released its popular Old Boardhead Barleywine, available in 22-ounce bottles … I know it’s not Hood River, but it’s interesting, so neener-neener. Did you know about the wannabe housing project on a sagebrush and sand plat above Rufus, called Gorge Vista? Developer is outside the scenic area, hoping to tap into the dry-side recreation along that stretch of the Columbia. Prospecting now for expressions of interest before building. Hmm? A second home destination for … Hood River residents? … New ice cream store is open just south of the Hood River Taqueria. Details and photo to come …

Rosauers expansion promises more natural foods, take-out options

19 Aug

View of Rosauers expansion from the southwest, toward area where can and bottle recycling will be situated.

The Hood River Rosauers store must’ve been eating its own inventory, because it just keeps on growing. Opened back in 1969 at 30,000 square feet, the Heights destination is in the middle of an expansion that should take it to just over 50,000 square feet of floor space.

On a recent walking tour, assistant manager Doug Bohn spoke of several new features. The southerly expansion will create room for a bigger Huckleberry’s natural food section, including 48 feet of freezer space — going from 15 doors to 28 doors — and 60 feet more of refrigerator space.

Bohn says Huckleberry’s will also expand its bulk food options.

With such a significant expansion of the natural foods area, I asked company chief executive and president Jeff Philipps if Rosauers has given any thought to spinning off the Huckleberries section into a stand-alone store. The company has one stand-alone Huckleberry’s now, in Spokane.

“We just have the one freestanding store in Spokane, but we’re looking at ways to expand that format in other areas,” he said. “We need larger population density to support that.”

When studying the market area for a store, Rosauers looks inside a radius of 30-40 miles, which would include The Dalles as well as the communities of Binge, White Salmon, Cascade Locks and Stevenson.

The “new” meat department will lose the freezer cases north of the fresh counter. Those cases can be used as refrigerated space, and will be moved south for other product.

New freezer and refrigerator space at the back of the store will support the bakery and deli departments. Driven by customer demand for quick, take-out foods, Rosauers will expand the deli to offer a large olive bar, soups, cooked and take-out pizza, and cases to keep cooked chicken and other deli foods hot.

Foundation work shows where southern wall of expanded Rosauers store will be located, giving more interior space for refrigerated foods.

The beer and wine section will expand as well, to include more local products. Bottle recycling will move to the southwest corner of the store. A new sidewalk provides food access along the south side for residents living to the east of the store, so they don’t have to drive for a carton of milk and some corn flakes.

Philipps says the project is costing about $2.4 million, and the company is trying to hire as many local contractors as it can.

That’s just one aspect of its sustainability thinking. There’s another major addition under consideration. The Buzzer is excited to share that news with you, but told Philipps we would wait until the company firms up plans, probably within a couple of weeks. Stay tuned.

Maybe the best news for those of us who like to chat with our checkers, the company is not — I repeat, NOT — thinking about installing self-checkout lanes, like Safeway has done.

“We value the customer experience, and want to interact with the customer to make sure they’ve had a pleasant experience,” Philipps says. “And the only way to get that is one-to-one.

“At a certain point in time, you have to focus on who you are and what you stand for.”


SR14 two-hour closures canceled for Thursday, Aug. 19

19 Aug

Washington Dept. of Transportation reports:

Two-hour closures of SR 14 at Dog Mountain (milepost 54) have been CANCELLED for tomorrow, Aug. 19. Both lanes of SR 14 will be open at Dog Mountain and White Salmon (milepost 64).

No work is scheduled at either location for Friday, Aug. 20.

Land deal to open doors for new Heights medical clinic

18 Aug

Pending sale of 1.8 acres on the west side of 12th Street just south of Pacific Avenue will lay the groundwork for construction of a new medical office building.

Henry Fischer of Fischer Development confirmed this morning that he has reached an agreement to purchase the property from the current owner, Hood River Equities LLC, which is essentially Stephen Ford and Andy von Flotow. Ford confirmed it as well, and said closing is set for Aug. 27.

As soon as the deal seals, Fischer plans to begin site plan review with the city. Plans haven’t been completed, so he couldn’t say if the building would be one or two stories. It will have between 8,000 and 10,000 square feet of interior space, and be sited on the south side of the property, just north of the former Ford auto dealership. Fischer plans to adjust the lot line between that property and the lot just to the north, which now contains an unoccupied house, so that both parcels are about the same size. He has no immediate plans for the corner lot.

Grading work for the southern parcel could begin this fall. Fischer expects construction to start in early 2011.

Fischer has a committed tenant — a group of physicians. He and the tenant group also have had talks with adjacent Columbia Gorge Community College about possible use of the clinic after hours for classes in the college’s medical programs.

Down to one SR14 lane Wednesday morning

18 Aug

According to WASDOT, SR 14 will be reduced to a single lane at White Salmon (milepost 64) between the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesday, August 18. Drivers can expect delays of up to 20 minutes.