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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.

lede_thompson_3747Geoff Thompson - IMAGE: jeffpalmer.com
Like rubberneckers at a car crash, gawkers flock to the Viewpoint Inn.

Some inch close to the cliff at the edge of the property and gaze at the Columbia River, 1,100 feet below. 

Twilight groupies make the pilgrimage to see where pivotal scenes from the 2008 cult vampire flick were shot.

Others come to inspect the damage from a July fire that left the 87-year-old inn a charred ruin.

And everybody who visits the Viewpoint now witnesses something else: a larger-than-life photo of inn owner Geoff Thompson, his bodybuilder’s physique naked except for a strategically placed banner. 

Above Thompson’s head on the photo are the words “Small Business Crucified,” and across his midsection, the banner reads, “By the Obama Administration.” 

The Christ metaphor suits Thompson’s worldview.

“It’s been rough here,” Thompson says. “But what I’ve gone through has made me an amazing human being.”

The crucifixion image is unsettling to neighbors in the unincorporated east Multnomah County hamlet of Corbett.

LARGER THAN LIFE: Thompson's crucifixion picture.
IMAGE: James Rexroad

“It’s appalling,” says Eric Lichtenthaler, a contractor who lives about a half mile from the inn. 

More unsettling to some locals is the amount of money—more than $3.2 million—that Thompson owes creditors, former employees and dozens of disappointed brides and grooms.

“They crucified themselves,” Lichtenthaler says of Thompson and partner Angelo Simione. “When you don’t pay your bills, that’s your fault.”

The story of the Viewpoint Inn is more than just another small business saga. It’s also a story of one man’s obsession and how he persuaded those responsible for protecting the Columbia River Gorge to bend federal and local laws for his benefit. 

Thompson, 50, describes himself as a “gay, three times bankrupt, in jail twice, recovering alcoholic.”

Despite his blemished résumé, Thompson persuaded the Columbia River Gorge Commission and Multnomah County to let him do something that had never been done—to operate a commercial business in a historic property in the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. 

With help from an unlikely collection of allies, including conservative property rights advocates and state Treasurer Ted Wheeler, Thompson reopened the inn on Memorial Day 2007, after a three-year land-use battle that left him deeply in debt. 

Today, hundreds of creditors are out millions of dollars, the inn is roofless, and a bankruptcy trustee has wrested Thompson’s dream from him. 

People take different lessons from the Viewpoint Inn’s literal and financial collapse. 

Michael Lang, conservation director for the environmental group Friends of the Columbia Gorge, says the county and the Gorge Commission should never have trusted Thompson, let alone changed policy at his behest.

Matt Wand, the attorney for three creditors, says Thompson’s ability to dodge his bills shows how the justice system fails honest businesspeople. 

Thompson has a different take.

He says he’s an honorable man whose dream cratered when policymakers from Obama to Gov. John Kitzhaber failed to extend small businesses like his the same lifeline they gave to Wall Street, automakers and AIG. 

Worst of all, he says, opposition from Friends of the Columbia Gorge put him in a financial hole he could never escape.

“I take 100 percent responsibility for everything that happened at the inn,” Thompson says today. 

“But these people [Friends of the Gorge] have taken pleasure in destroying lives—and many more than just mine.”

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