Crescent City Harbormaster Charlie Helms showed the first conceptual drawings of a tourist attraction that would serve as a place of refuge during a tsunami.

He also detailed various avenues the port could pursue for funding such a facility, including taking advantage of a new vehicle that offers tax benefits to real estate investors that invest in economically-distressed communities.

Helms told commissioners on Tuesday the Crescent City Harbor District is hoping to use the new Opportunity Funds tax incentive for development of tourist lodging facilities such as the RV park and bike hostel, development of a 60-room inn on Anchor Way and development of The Tsunami Experience and vertical evacuation center.

The new artists renderings of the Tsunami Experience depict a five story structure that would include breakaway exterior walls and a helipad.

Helms said the structure was designed to withstand a 2,475-year tsunami, new requirements under the California Building Code that applies to critical buildings such as hospitals, emergency operations centers and vertical evacuation structures.

Helms, who was part of the delegation of city and county officials visting Rikuzentakata, Japan in June, said the only two multi-story buildings still standing in that community following the March 2011 tsunami had breakaway exterior walls.

“They had breakaway walls so when the tsunami comes through and wipes out the exterior walls, it doesn’t affect the structure,” he told commissioners. “The place where people are going to go to be safe is the fifth floor, and there’s a heliport on top to bring in supplies and evacuate wounded.”

The first two floors would be a parking structure, according to Helms. The third and fourth floors would be part of the Tsunami Experience, which would include a 3D/4D theater devoted to tsunamis. There would also be conference rooms and a commercial kitchen, Helms said.

Helms said he plans to meet with Del Norte County Community Development Director Heidi Kunstal on Wednesday to show her the drawings of the Tsunami Experience. He also has appointments to meet with California Coastal Commission representatives as well as Rick Wilson and Kevin Miller, of California Office of Emergency Services and the California Geotechnical Engineering Association.

“I want to make sure they’re good with it because this is going to be part of our presentation to funders,” Helms said.

In March, Helms told commissioners the Tsunami Experience would be constructed to allow for the inflow and outflow of a tsunami, including debris, to wash past it. He noted then that there are 347 hotel rooms, 299 RV spaces, eight tent camping sites and 500 crew members working on commercial fishing vehicles that may seek shelter at the vertical evacuation center during a tsunami.

Potential funding opportunities

Helms said he participated in a conference call with the Federal Reserve System on July 26 focusing on the new Opportunity Zones tax initiative. He said he also spoke with representatives from Enterprise Community Partners, formerly the Enterprise Foundation. Enterprise Community Partners is a Maryland-based nonprofit that works to finance, build and advocate for affordable housing.

“They think this tax benefit will funnel $30 to 50 billion into Opportunity Zones in the next three to five years,” Helms said. “We are an Opportunity Zone. There are two in Del Norte County”

Opportunity Zones were established under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which passed Dec. 22, 2017, according to a Monday article in the Tennessean. The tax incentive was designed to encourage long-term investment in low-income urban and rural communities, the Tennessean reported.

According to the Tennessean, investing in an Opportunity Zone could provide investors with temporary or permanent deferral on capital gains.

According to Helms, the Opportunity Funds initiative is a U.S. Treasury Department program and won’t get into full operation until 2019.

Helms said he has also been working with Arden Shank, a consultant and a member of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and the National Mortgage Finance Community Council. Helms said Shank has been speaking with both entities about the harbor’s development projects and Opportunity Fund investments.

According to Helms, after meeting with potential investors in Milwaukee in July, Shank learned that they are looking at development projects that would cost $20 million or more.

“The good thing is we have three projects,” Helms said. “We’re doing background numbers to show that an investor can make money with this because if someone invests in this and they keep investing for 10 years, anything they make is free of capital gains. It’s free money.”

Helms said the only stipulation the Treasury Department placed on the Opportunity Fund tax initiative was that it wouldn’t cause gentrification.

“We don’t have that challenge here in the harbor,” he said. “We’re not going to create gentrification and that’s the only guidance the Treasury’s really putting out right now.”

Helms said the harbor will also pursue grants through the Community Reinvestment Act and from CalOES to start the vertical evacuation center.

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