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September 28th, 2011 NIGEL JAQUISS | Cover Story
 

The Crucifixion of Geoff Thompson

One man’s obsession with the Viewpoint Inn left smoking ruins, stiffed creditors and angry brides.


FIRE DAMAGE: Water from the efforts to extinguish a July blaze left the Viewpoint’s dining room a mess and the second floor roofless.
IMAGE: James Rexroad

After Thompson gave up his dream, he fled to Los Angeles and redirected his energy. 

He threw himself into weight lifting, bench-pressing, he recalls, 455 pounds and squatting 600. He says he also abused steroids, pumping himself up to 255 pounds, nearly 50 pounds more than his current weight. He twice landed in jail after fights. His heavy drinking escalated, as did his abuse of other drugs.

“I hit bottom in L.A,” Thompson says. “I used meth every day for a year.”

In 2003, he met his partner, Simione, and sobered up. He says he also learned to tame the anger that once got him banned from Multnomah County headquarters (see “Buff Daddy,” WW, Sept. 29, 1999).

(Thompson hasn’t mellowed completely: In a recent interview, he referred to former Multnomah County Chairwoman Diane Linn, a Viewpoint opponent, as “a bitch, bought and paid for by Friends of the Gorge”; assistant county attorney Sandra Duffy as “a disgusting human being”; and the Friends of the Columbia Gorge’s Lang as “a miserable person.” And when Simione suggested a possible reconciliation with Lang and his group, Thompson said, “I piss on that, in all sincerity.”)

In Los Angeles, Thompson pined to return to the Viewpoint Inn. He lugged around an archive of photos and documents from his earlier tenancy.

ROOFLESS: The burned out second floor.
IMAGE: James Rexroad

In 2003, a sale of the inn to musician Michael Allen Harrison (coincidentally a high-school acquaintance of Thompson’s) fell through. A real estate agent called Thompson and Simione, who bought the property for $450,000. 

When they arrived in Corbett that December, the property lacked electricity and upstairs windows, and had been inhabited by squatters and a couple of abandoned cats. 

But repairing years of damage and neglect proved easier than getting permission to operate the inn as a commercial establishment.

Thompson says nobody gave him any indication before the purchase whether he’d get permission to reopen the inn: He just felt he’d find a way to do so. 

“I can’t turn my back on doing the right thing,” he says. “There are just some times in life when you fight for principle—and this was one of them.”

For three years, Thompson battled the Columbia River Gorge Commission and Multnomah County. 

The Gorge Commission decided first, and gave Thompson what he wanted. Martha Bennett, who was executive director of the commission, says when Thompson applied for a plan amendment, her group surveyed the number of historic properties in the Gorge and realized many were at risk. 

The commission found that historical preservation was part of the scenic act’s purpose and so voted to allow commercial use for any property listed on the National Register of Historic Places (as the Viewpoint was) or that could qualify for listing. 

“Commissioners felt strongly that preservation of the Viewpoint Inn and other properties was in keeping with the act,” says Bennett, whom Metro hired last month to be its chief operating officer.

“It is unfortunate that those particular owners [Thompson and Simione] were the people to make that happen.”

Friends of the Columbia Gorge, a well-financed, laser-focused outfit, bitterly opposed that decision and were frustrated by what they saw as a lack of accountability measures to keep the inn safe. 

“Martha Bennett was resistant to almost every suggestion or request by Friends of the Gorge to tighten this plan amendment,” says the group’s Lang. 

“She seemed to think this was a public relations nuclear bomb and didn’t want her agency to get caught in the blast zone.”

A Geoff Thompson Retrospective

Thompson’s victory was incomplete. While the Gorge Commission had approved his use of the inn, he still required zoning approval from Multnomah County.

At the final hearing on Thompson’s request to Multnomah County, throngs of conservative property rights advocates came to support two gay Democrats. 

Critics worried greenlighting the Viewpoint Inn would open the Gorge to widespread exploitation.

“We weren’t really opposed to the Viewpoint as much as we were opposed to the extension of the policy to the whole Gorge,” says Claudia Curran, one of the Corbett residents who testified in opposition.

Hundreds of people wrote letters supporting Thompson and Simione, and many lawmakers and local elected officials backed them as well. Perhaps Thompson’s most influential supporter, however, was Ted Wheeler, then a candidate for Multnomah County chairman. 

“Multnomah County’s position on the Viewpoint Inn shifted when Ted Wheeler began campaigning for the reopening of the inn in late 2005 and early 2006,” says Lang.

Wheeler made a strong case for Thompson.

“This is an important economic development opportunity that the commission should direct the Planning Bureau to move forward on just as quickly as possible,” he told commissioners in Jan. 5, 2006, testimony.

“What are we waiting for?  Why not prioritize the creation of dozens of living-wage jobs?  Why not prioritize the process of boosting this important part of our local community?”

Today, Wheeler says he still thinks Thompson had a compelling vision. “It was always an open question whether they [Thompson and Simione] had the business acumen to pull it off,” he says. “There’s no question they’ve made some very bad business decisions.”

Despite Thompson’s history of complaints and bankruptcies (two by that time), county commissioners awarded him a five-year permit. 

Friends of the Gorge sued. All the group achieved, however, was an agreement that Thompson would fix the inn’s ancient cedar-shake roof, repair the chimney that sprouted from the massive river-rock fireplace, and maintain fire insurance (all of which he failed to do).

At the time, Thompson felt triumphant.

“I came back from L.A. and won a victory over the Forest Service, Multnomah County, the Gorge Commission and Friends of the Gorge,” he says. 

“I won a victory not just for me but for the thousands of people who had their lives destroyed by ‘radical environmentalism.’”

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