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`Independence Renaissance' breaks ground

Work began July 30 on widening the sidewalks of downtown Independence.

INDEPENDENCE -- Work began July 30 on widening the sidewalks of downtown Independence.

The official ground-breaking was July 25. As usual, John Pfaff was there.

Joh Pfaff is always there. He was there 50 years ago for the dedication of the Independence Bridge. He was there just last year for the completion of the sidewalk linking Independence to Central High School.

It would hardly be a public works project without Pfaff there, Independence Mayor John McArdle said.

Pfaff was one of the local residents who rallied behind the downtown improvement project. McArdle said the project owes a lot to such support.

"The Independence Renaissance couldn't have happened without the Chamber, downtown business association, City, our friends in the state and federal government, Oregon Economic Development and the whole community moving forward," McArdle said.

"It's a very exciting time for our city. It's a great time to be in Independence."

Along with the widening of the sidewalks, public works crews will be putting in Victorian-style street lights and other landscaping touches.

The street lights are being paid for with a $45,000 Rural Development grant. The sidewalks and other work is being funded with an additional $300,000 from the Oregon Downtown Development Association.

Lynn Schoessler, Rural Development's state director, came to town June 13 to give a check to McArdle and City Manager Greg Ellis.

Schoessler said he's impressed with what he saw in downtown Independence.

While downtowns in small communities are traditionally troubled, there isn't one vacant storefront in downtown Independence.

"From my perspective, this is a very progressive city," he said. "Things are happening here."

McArdle definitely agrees. "It's all part of the Independence Renaissance."

Community Development Director Mike Danko said most of the downtown improvements should be completed by September. "We don't want to waste any time," he said.

The new street lights will be about the last touch added.

Danko said widening the sidewalks by 3 feet and lining them with trees and benches will encourage people to walk downtown and enjoy the community.

Street corners will be extended bulbs -- slowing traffic and making it easier for pedestrians to get from one side of the street to the other.

"This is all about making Main Street nicer for pedestrians," Ellis said.

In all, five blocks of Main Street -- from Riverview Park to Monmouth Street -- will be renovated.

City officials will also spend about $400,000 for underground water, sewer, storm drain pipes and street pavement.

"It's going to be ugly for awhile, but it will eventually look good," Ellis said.

The downtown project is just part of the renniassance.

New playground equipment is going into Riverview Park. City officials are raising money for an ampitheater to replace the ball field at the corner of Main and C streets.

Ellis said he's after the Oregon National Guard to donate the labor to excavate the land for the $63,000 amphitheater project.

The money for the project is coming from an $8,000 grant from the Mid-Valley Arts Council and a $35,000 grant from state lottery funds.

The other $20,000 is coming from other grants, Ellis said.

Local Boy Scouts plan to clear out brush and create a new ball field elsewhere in the park. McArdle said other new ball fields will follow.

"We have all kinds of things moving forward," he said. "Its a wonderful, very exciting time."

McArdle said the people of Independence deserve a lot of credit.

"We've been fortunate to have a council of vision with the support of the community. All of those parts working together is what's setting us apart."


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