City sees potential construction projects

INDEPENDENCE -- Last month, citizens in Independence got their first look at feasibility studies and drawings for two urban development projects the city has long envisioned for downtown.

Neither of the plans has been made official, but "it's pretty likely" said City Manager Greg Ellis that a two-story, mixed-use building will be erected where DJ Battery currently stands while the hop warehouse on Second Street will be turned into a first-run movie theater.

"We have investment in the property, we've invested in the designs, we have an urban renewal district to support us; I'd say it's a good bet that this will happen," he said.

At its last meeting, city council advised that staff move forward and talk with possible tenants before green-lighting the projects.

"Where we are in the plans is we've taken a look at the possibilities and had good public response," said Mayor John McArdle, referring to a series of project-design presentations made to the community last month.

"No final positions have been made yet, but we've asked staff to make deals with some of the business interests we've been talking to."

Ellis said two downtown Independence businesses and the owner of the Fox Theater in Dallas have all shown interest in leasing the proposed buildings.

The two projects were developed by Portland-based Seder Architects, which handled the three phase expansion of the Werner University Center at Western Oregon University.

The plan for the DJ Battery site -- purchased for $175,000 earlier this year -- proposes a two-story building with mixed commercial and residential capabilities. The ground floor would feature 28,000 square feet of retail space.

The top floor would consist of 20,000-23,000 square feet to be used as office space, residential housing or a combination of both. The southern quarter of the half-block property would be used for parking and as a loading area. The cost of construction would be between $3.4 million and $3.8 million.

Mark Seder of Seder Architects said the building could be erected initially without the second-floor component, which would lower the figure to $2.6 million.

Ellis said when the general public viewed the projects, one of the few concerns that surfaced was whether or not Independence had the market for more retail space.

"We've got a pretty dynamic downtown, things are staying pretty full," Ellis said. "I think we have little if any available space for retail...we've got a good amount of industrial space but not much in the way of retail."

Seder said there had been talk seven or eight years ago about using the hop warehouse as a new location for the city library.

"The knowledge gained then of the facility was that it could still be of value, which is the reason for this new use as a theater facility," he said.

Seder said a recent structural report of the almost 115 year-old warehouse showed it could be renovated and converted into a five-screen multiplex, while keeping the basic character of the building in tact. One portion of the theater could possibly be reserved for live theater performances. The price tag for direct construction would total $2.2 million.

McArdle said he hopes deals with potential tenants can be made before the end of the year, adding that the projects would make a strong statement about development in the city.

"Independence has always prided itself as a full service community, not a bedroom community," he said. "That's our direction."

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