INDEPENDENCE -- Greg Ellis says it has become a sort of personal morning ritual during the past couple of weeks.
Before he checks into his office at City Hall, Ellis makes a point to stop by the recently completed Independence Amphitheater for a stroll.
First through the colonnade standing sentinel over Riverview Park at the plaza off Main Street. Then down the stairs, around the terraced levels of neatly manicured lawn and to the concrete pad at the bottom of the bowl.
"It's almost like I'm afraid somebody is going to steal it," says the Independence city manager with a laugh.
"I hope I never get tired of looking at it."
Many around town would say those feelings are justified.
Now that it's finished, the amphitheater, which spans about four acres and has the capacity to seat up to 4,000, has become the anchor for a downtown that's been in a constant state of growth for the past several years.
The site will be the future home of a wide variety of cultural programs, concerts and other events, such as this weekend's Western Days celebration.
Ellis said there are few places like it within the Willamette Valley -- or the state.
"We know Albany has a beautiful amphitheater, but that's a in a town of almost 45,000," Ellis said. "I'm not aware of any other venue like this, in a city this size, in Oregon."
The $1.15 million project was almost eight years in the making. City leaders first conceived the idea in 1997, while drafting a development plan for the historic downtown district.
"Originally, we intended just to build a stationary stage," in the park, Ellis said.
But, showing foresight, city officials decided to think bigger: They looked at the possibility of an amphitheater as a long-range project. It became reality once Independence received a $250,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation.
A committee of community members and city staff was then assembled to come up with the basic design of the amphitheater, a process which took nearly three years, said City Councilor Marilyn Morton.
The project may not have happened but for a bit of financial resourcefulness. In 2000, Ellis approached the Oregon National Guard about moving 16,000 cubic feet of dirt in order to shape the bowl section of the amphitheater. The move saved the city about $775,000.
System development charges and money from the Independence Urban Renewal District were used to complete the amphitheater project, which came in under budget, he said.
That's not to say there weren't hiccups along the way. In 2002, the National Guard sent troops to Central Oregon to help battle the massive Biscuit Fire. That pushed the excavation of Riverview Park back a year.
In late 2003, officials had to redesign the top portion of the amphitheater after members of AmVets Post 1776 lobbied against the relocation of their war memorial on the sidewalk at the top of the park to build a planned water fountain.
The city and the veterans group eventually agreed to move the monument to its current location at the corner of Main and C streets. A fountain, at the center entrance to the park, will be constructed at a later date.
Incorporating the memorial into the overall design of the amphitheater cost an additional $40,000, Ellis said. The controversy also delayed construction by a few weeks, which threatened the city's grant funding from the state, he also said.
With the amphitheater complete, however, community members are already itching to put the site to use during the coming month, with uses ranging from antique fairs to art shows.
A summer concert series has been booked from this weekend through September. Starting June 30 and for the remainder of the summer - weather permitting -- the city will show movies in the park every Thursday.
Morton said she believes the amphitheater will bring more visitors through Independence and give a boost to downtown businesses and the local economy.
"This puts us on the map," Morton said. "Not that we weren't there before, but this opens up all kinds of opportunities for us."