Listening to Mayors John McArdle of Independence and John Oberst of Monmouth is a big experience. Big guys (McArdle is NFL-sized; Oberst looks like NBA material). Big visions. Big energy.
The 150 or so people packed into Amador's Alley last week to hear the "State of the Cities" messages came away with a distinct impression:
Both mayors represent cities that have a lot going for them, and both know it takes a lot of work and enthusiasm to keep things that way.
The always ebullient McArdle led off by emphasizing that while life is good in Independence, under his watch there will be no standing on past successes. Community leaders will be asked this year to update a 10-year strategic plan for the city's future.
"I hope you'll choose to share your thoughts -- and most importantly, your dreams," McArdle said. "This is a place where dreams can and do happen ... and I'm proud to say we're being told that we're an inspiration to others."
He listed as projects that will see action in 2007:
* More construction on the Ash Creek Trail that eventually will connect downtown Independence with the Western Oregon University campus in Monmouth.
* Major steps toward completion of the downtown Independence Station. "I've been assured that it will move forward ... I expect it, I will insist on it."
* Continued renovation of Mountain Fir Park, and drafting of plans for additional baseball, softball and soccer fields in Independence.
* Launching of the long-discussed Business Incubator program, and anticipation of more new downtown businesses.
Along with sustaining quality of life for its citizens, Independence will seek to bring more visitors to enjoy the city's restaurants, stores, amphitheater events and new eight-screen cinema. McArdle calls that focus "Destination Independence.
Many of those visitors, along with Independence's own residents, will come into town through the nearly completed Highway 51 upgrade, "almost a mile of wide road, sidewalks and tons of trees," McArdle said.
The recent closure of the Boise Cascade mill was a blow to Independence. The mayor quickly added, however, that the 48 acres of prime industrial real estate, 14 acres of it paved, has already sparked interest from prospective tenants.
McArdle said among the challenges facing the city are "things we cannot control," because "we are not an island. We are connected to what happens in the state and the county." He said Independence will lobby against the state Legislature carrying out proposals to limit urban renewal incentives and change bargaining procedures for public safety workers. He said the loss of federal timber funds to Oregon counties, if it happens, will trickle down and be felt in Independence.
Otherwise, it's all systems go for more success in the city by the river. McArdle even added a new catch phrase to his arsenal of can-do descriptors, dubbing Independence "an outpost of optimism."
Oberst, acknowledging that the city has had to work through some rough times in keeping key positions (especially the city manager's office) filled, is quick to point out that he sees a great foundation for livability and rainbows on the horizon.
"Monmouth finds itself in possession of four powerfully attractive features for the new century," the mayor said. He listed:
* The city has its own electric utility (Monmouth Power and Light), providing reliable low-cost power.
* The city is home to a top-notch university, a source of highly-trained employees and quality citizens.
* A modern transportation link to the north and south in Highway 99W.
* In conjunction with Independence, the MINet fiberoptic network, which will provide modern communications capabilities far into the future,
Add to that a growth rate of 4 percent in 2006 that saw 122 new homes with no strain on city infrastructure ("people have found Monmouth, and they like what they see"), and Oberst has reason for optimism.
He pointed out that for the first time in years there is new commercial construction going on in town. He predicted that of three more major commercial projects on the drawing board -- the Park Plaza building downtown, a Walgreens store at Main and 99W, and development at the S-Curve -- Monmouth will see groundbreaking on at least two in 2007.
More positives: Oberst said the senior center plans an 1,800-square-foot expansion; library use and services continue to expand; police are at full strength after budget cuts in 2003; and city departments are led and staffed by dynamic employees.
Oberst mentioned as a major challenge the need for Monmouth to keep up with the growth of Western Oregon University. He said it is his personal goal "to strengthen our relationship. Western needs and deserves a healthy and vibrant Monmouth, and Monmouth needs Western to thrive."
The mayor said the community should envision a 10,000-student university, and must make plans accordingly.
Oberst summed up by calling Monmouth "the town I have grown to love," and said "The state of the city is good, and getting better all the time."
"The new theater complex is accomplishing exactly what we hoped it would, drawing interest and new business to our downtown. I can't wait for its opening (in March). Get the popcorn ready!" --McArdle
"Cities all across the nation would love to have what we have here... Monmouth hasn't made a concentrated effort to market itself and its amenities. That will change, and I see a bright future." --John Oberst