Al Cornell is nothing if not a practical man.
He’s learned engineering, electronics and business through college courses and in the field – and he hopes to put that experience in mechanical and electrical engineering and as a former business owner to work as a port commissioner.
“I don’t have a stick in this fire,” the 71-year-old said. “I have no business interests (in port activities) whatsoever.
Cornell said, “When I first came here (10 years ago) so many people had conflicts of interest with their own business interests.”
Cornell is originally from New York City, lives on his boat in Harbor and has two children, Aron and Sara, both of Phoenix, Ariz. He is running against Tim Patterson; the seat is being vacated by Ted Freeman.
Like other candidates, Cornell recognizes the backlog of maintenance issues that need to be addressed at the port. And his engineering past should serve him well in that arena, he said. Additionally, having owned two businesses – one a mechanical contracting firm, the other a restaurant – he has the business acumen to grow the port and become more fiscally solvent.
“The port is now keeping its head above water,” he said. “We need to keep it active with all the rest of the small ports in Oregon. We need to keep the ball rolling.”
Future work should include getting small-port dredging activities working together, making the RV park more profitable and communicating well to get things accomplished, he said.
“Communication between the business community, the city of Brookings, the chamber and what the port can do,” he offered as a solution. “The only way is communication. Otherwise it will be business as usual. You have an idea? Let’s get it done. Let’s get this place really moving.”
Cornell feels the port itself, minus a few repair issues that are being addressed, needs to create among people a desire to visit. A major part of that, he said, could be better promoting port activities and possibly transforming the “gray ghost” into a convention or conference center.
He feels the business community of Brookings and the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce need to get more involved in port activities, as well.
“They see all the benefits,” he said. “And the port gets nothing for all its work.”
Cornell said he enjoys Southern Oregonians’ attitude of self-sufficiency and believes it can be put to work to expand events in the winter and doing more promotion to lure visitors.
But this place is so unique, so beautiful. The raw beauty of the coastline is something to behold.
Even after a decade in the ocean town, Cornell still finds it amazing how residents here fend for themselves.
“People in Oregon don’t need anyone telling them how to do business; they just do it,” he said in his native Big Apple accent. “We got a problem, we take care of the problem. We deal with the situation in the best way: with common sense and knowing what’s right.”
That’s how he feels the port should be run, as well.
Cornell said he believes there needs to be more cooperation between the city of Brookings and the Chamber of Commerce. But he doesn’t want the city to impose itself onto the port in the form of annexation.
“No, no, no, no and no,” he said.
And the port will continue to fare well into the future, Cornell said.
“We have the opportunity to keep going the way we’re going,” he said. “The port has groundwork to cover. And if you not doing it right, people will tell you real fast.”
Sue Gold, an 8-year veteran on the Port of Brookings Harbor board of commissioners, is going for another four-year term, this time challenged by port business owner Roger Thompson for her Position 4 seat.
Gold, a 27-year resident of the area, earned a degree in math from the University of Utah, and her masters from the University of San Francisco.
Gold worked as a math teacher in the Del Norte schools and, when she retired 11 years ago, was asked to teach math part-time at the College of the Redwoods in Crescent City. She said that experience will help move the port toward a more solid fiscal standing.
“I know my numbers, and that’s one of the biggest problems with the port,” she said. “I’ve helped get them through a little bit of that. We’re not at the end of the journey, but we’re certainly on our way. It was a lot worse when I first came on. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’d like to get us in a position where we don’t feel so strapped.”
If elected May 21, Gold would to address maintenance issues at the port and continue addressing the fiscal challenges.
“We should continue the way in which we’re doing it,” she said of financial matters. “We brought an interest-only loan to about half, and worked out a deal with the state on how to handle our payments. We need to continue on the same path and be fiscally responsible, not jump into too many things and do things that cost us money.”
Improvements she’d like to see include the electrical system to the RV park, and addressing new fishing regulations and developing a sustainable financial plan, especially in light of national and state cutbacks.
She’d like to consider relocating the Azalea Festival from the city to the port and bringing back the Festival of the Arts.
“The more events we have, the better off we’ll be,” Gold said. “The more events the better.”
A challenge with that is that the port has no money to spend to host many events. But officials there are eager to entertain suggestions and work with people to bring new ideas to fruition.
Gold is not, however, sure what the port should do regarding the vacant green building along Lower Harbor Road.
“I don’t know about a convention center at this time,” she said. “I’m not even sure about office buildings. It’s a beautiful location for a center, but transportation (to and from Brookings) here is rather difficult. I’d like to see it leased and finish it off. We need a viable tenant.”
She supports the idea of collaboration between all entities that depend on tourism, including the city, port and chamber of commerce.
“If the port does well, the city does well,” she said, citing Slam’n Salmon, that attracts people to the event who also spend money in restaurants and hotels. “We should work in conjunction with one another because it’s helpful to all three entities. If you’re at each other’s throats, you’re never going to accomplish anything.”
That collaboration, however, doesn’t extend as far as annexation of either the port or Harbor to the city of Brookings, in Gold’s mind.
“I’m really not for that.” she said. “I can see no value in that. I know a lot of people in Harbor are dead-set against annexation. I’ve heard people say, ‘Once they (Brookings) get their foot over the bridge, they’ll keep spreading.’ I can understand the people in Harbor. I think the port should be autonomous, but we should work together.”
Roger Thompson is running for the Position 4 seat on the Port of Brookings Harbor because he feels he could do the job better than others.
The 67-year-old retired sawmill operator said he’d bring to the board an array of experiences including earning his business degree from Oregon State University and operating corporate sawmills throughout the United States.
Thompson has served as a boardmember of the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce working on promotions, as a watershed council president, vice-president of the Klamath Management Zone Fisheries Coalition, owning and managing RV parks and working with “big – large – budgets” throughout, he said.
“I understand the problems of the port probably as well as anyone,” he said. “I’m old enough to remember the first jetty rock, the first Coast Guard station – when we had one paved road in the county.”
His family moved here in 1951; Thompson left in 1965 to attend college and returned in 1995. He has a son, Erice, and his significant other, Angie.
If he wins the election, his first goal will be to increase tourism at the port, Thompson said. He feels there’s not enough day-to-day information on the port’s website to let people know what’s happening on the ocean. He said there’s not enough promotional material getting to valley residents about events and festivals.
He wants to change all that – and more.
“We have had four port managers,” he said. I think we need to push for term limits. We need to keep working on finances – the only reason the debt is down is because the state took interest payments off it; it’s an interest-free loan, now. And we need to try to attract businesses to fill the shops that aren’t owned by the port and get a good, fresh-fish market here.
“We need a festival in June,” he continued. “Why don’t we celebrate fisheries here with Slam’n Salmon? Why don’t we have a crab and wine festival? They started the one in Astoria in a tent. They started the one in Newport in a tent.”
For all the answers he has, however, Thompson said he doesn’t have an answer for the “gray ghost” building on port property.
“I don’t see the port going in debt (to transform the building), but I also don’t feel the port has tried to advertise this building to, say, the Oregon Restaurant Association. Would Mo’s want it? Applebees? Chilis? Maybe work with the state: ‘Hey, we’ve got this building down here; can you take some ownership?’
The port needs to be better promoted and the chamber, city and port need to work together to do so. Commercial fishermen need a place to legally fillet fish – on stainless steel tables. The port should pursue grants to make improvements – a small fish-processing plant comes to Thompson’s mind – that will attract people and help pay down its debt.
“We do not do the best job of running the RV park,” he said, noting that people will pay higher rates for the prime oceanfront property – even in the winter. “They don’t understand the RV’er like I do.”
But getting new revenue in the form of a transient lodging tax if the city were to annex the port is not something Thompson would like to pursue, saying the only thing the port would gain from annexation would be a police presence.
The top priority, he said, “is to see the port keep growing. Reduce debt and shorten the deferred maintenance list.
“We’re the safest harbor and bar, we have the best Chinook fishing in Oregon, we have nice RV facilities throughout the area; let’s push fishing harder, push RV’ing harder. I think I can do a good job of it.”
Tim Patterson is vying for the Position 5 seat against Al Cornell.
The owner of the Redwood Theater and other commercial properties in Brookings, Patterson feels the best way to generate revenue at the port is to transform the empty “gray ghost” building into a convention center.
In fact, he plans to make that a top priority if he wins the election May 21.
“We need to look at it from an economic development point of view,” Patterson, 71, said. “It would be good for tourism, bringing a continuous stream of money from the outside world. We just need to figure out how to do it financially.”
Numerous grants are available for economic development projects, he acknowledged, and while such funding could serve as a viable source to make the building into a convention center, the city should be involved as well.
“I am a proponent of the port being a part of Brookings,” he said. “Brookings and Harbor need to become one, and this could be the first step. We need to do this together.”
If the property tax measure fails May 21, Harbor will be without any law enforcement, except in life-or-death cases when Brookings police would assist.
“It (the tax measure) may be the only way to get police services,” he said. “Regardless, I think this is the right thing for the area.”
Patterson encourages more events at the port, despite comments from Brookings business owners who say the port activities divert visitors from town, he said.
“I’m a big proponent of the port being the tourist destination for Brookings,” he said. “For me, a downtown business owner, a tourist of Harbor is just as valuable as a tourist downtown.”
And the port has the facilities – parking, the kite field, the boardwalk, ocean, riverside and shops – to spread out the throngs during events.
“You can see the difference in having an event at the port versus events downtown,” Patterson said. “One is spectacular, the other is a mess. Downtown merchants don’t all agree, but they need to realize it doesn’t matter where the tourists go, we all benefit from it. They all shop downtown.”
Patterson lives in Harbor with his wife, Cynthia Chi; his three children are grown. He holds a degree in business from the University of California at Sacramento and worked in tennis and racquetball clubs before he went into contract computer programming.
When he arrived in Brookings in 1993, he founded Harborside Internet, which grew to more than 6,000 dial-up customers before he sold the business and the industry went high-speed. Patterson also serves on the Brookings Tourism and Promotion Advisory Committee.
Currently, that group is working to develop a television advertising strategy to lure Rogue Valley residents to the coast.
Challenges he foresees as a port commissioner include paying off the debt the port has incurred over the years. But, he said, the current board seems to have that under control. And all businesses have maintenance issues, and he is satisfied at the pace at which projects are being completed at the port, particularly after the tsunami in 2011.
“I’m not trying to get on the board to change how they’re addressing maintenance,” he said. “We’re on the path out of debt, the loans are under control – they won’t be paid off next week – and the port has a lot of assets.”
Part of the port’s mandate is to increase economic development projects, Patterson noted.
“They haven’t spent much time on that due to funding issues, but as they come out of that, they’ll have more time,” Patterson said. “And the convention center is the first piece. If you think it’s a bad vision, then you shouldn’t vote for me. But I think we should continue on the path the port’s on now and add this facility to the repertoire.”