Public will decide old warehouse's fate

Once a grand monument to hops prosperity, giant building is now a hazard


Independence Public Works Department employee Victor Villarreal looks at the ceiling of the 75-year-old hop warehouse on Second and D streets.

INDEPENDENCE -- There was a time when the warehouse at the corner of Second and D streets was seen as a testament to Independence's economy. It was an 8,200-square-foot symbol of the city's hop-growing tradition.

Almost 75 years have passed since the Southern Pacific Company finished the structure. It has seen better days.

A quick glance around the exterior reveals cracks in a section of the exposed foundation on the building's south side. Sunlight has caused its yellow paint job to blister and slough off.

A collection of furniture, books and old city Christmas decorations sit piled into the corners of the vast, open interior. Sunlight pokes through the slits of the wall's ancient wooden siding.

"That's real thin," says Victor Villarreal, a public works employee, pointing at the walls as he strolls between 30-foot high beams.

"There was one time I thought we were going to lose it, during a storm in 1996," he said. "You could see the walls buckling and rocking back and forth.

"I'd say the posts and floors are about the only thing that are solid in here."

As City Manager Greg Ellis describes it, the old hop warehouse is in a state of development limbo, while other projects in the downtown spring up around it.

"It's basically composting," he said. And it is reaching a point where more money will be needed just to keep it maintained and safe, he said.

The city has flirted in the past with turning the warehouse into first-run movie theater. Or renovating it. Or using its lumber to construct improvements on existing city facilities.

Officials are looking for ideas from citizens. Community members are invited to offer their ideas regarding the future of the warehouse at a pair of public forums later this month.

"What we do will result from what the community wants," Ellis said. "What would be the benefit or the return on the building? Should it be maintained?"

Another question is whether the existence of the warehouse is a constraint to future development of the downtown core.

"You can't build north of the warehouse, to the east you have the historic district and residential area," Ellis said. "The only place to expand is the south and southwest, we're limited in how we can grow out the downtown."

There lots of is history behind the warehouse. Southern Pacific erected the building in 1930, to expand storage capacity for baled hops that would ultimately be shipped off via railroad from Independence to breweries inside and outside Oregon, according to an article in the Feb. 7, 1930 edition of the Independence Enterprise.

By the 1950s, the local hop industry was in ruins, thanks in large part to stiff competition from growers in Sacramento and Washington's Yakima Valley. Local farmers began the switch to row crops and other commodities.

Activity at the warehouse ceased. Southern Pacific sold the structure to the city, which used it for storage.

In 1989, the National Register of Historic Places did an inventory of the warehouse and labeled it in "poor condition."

Ellis said it would cost between $800,000 and $1 million just to keep the building in a condition suitable for city storage. To renovate it for public -- or private use -- would total $1.5 million to $2 million.

In 2003, officials courted a first-run movie vendor about turning the building into a theater, and even created preliminary designs detailing a five-screen complex. The city eventually sidelined the idea to concentrate on other projects, such as the amphitheater and improvements to Highway 51.

Jane Honebeck of the Independence Downtown Association said she and other business owners would like to see something done with the building.

"As we continue not to use it, it just keeps deteriorating," she said. "It's heritage, yes, so it's hard to give up.

"And I love restoration.

"But this is also a question of being realistic about the viability of saving something ... that doesn't seem safe."

The public forums on the warehouse's future are scheduled for:

* 5:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 22, at 831 Stinson St.

* 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23, at the City Council meeting.

For more information: Karin Johnson at 503-838-1212.


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