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Development In Downtown Progressing -- And Lagging

INDEPENDENCE -- Plans are in store for a number of downtown Independence buildings, but progress for each of them varies.

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The former Independence Opera House in downtown is undergoing a full renovation.

INDEPENDENCE -- Plans are in store for a number of downtown Independence buildings, but progress for each of them varies.

Property owners and representatives gave updates on their respective projects during last week's city council meeting:

There have been no signs of activity at Independence Station since late August, as most who pass the building on a daily basis have noticed.

Dan Maxwell of Johnson Controls, project contractor, said work was suspended nine weeks ago so owner Steven Ribeiro could seek more funding to complete the 57,000-square-foot, mixed-use building.

Johnson Controls agreed recently to guarantee another loan for Ribeiro "as long as we can get acceptable terms of conditions on the loan," Maxwell said.

"We would anticipate those would be the same terms and conditions that were given on the first loan to Ribeiro that we also guaranteed," Maxwell said.

Maxwell told councilors he wasn't sure when construction would restart.

"My people are ready to go," he said. "We just need to make sure we have the money to pay everybody."

Independence Station has experienced numerous delays since it was announced five years ago. After securing a loan for the $15 million project in June 2008, Ribeiro predicted the building would be finished this year.

Ted and Courtney Baker have been overhauling the Independence Opera House on Main Street since last year. Facade work on the 121-year-old structure is currently going at "full steam," Ted Baker said.

Painting of the upper story should be finished by next week, while repairs and painting at ground level will be completed in early November.

Baker, an attorney, said the bottom floor will be renovated in early 2010, then work will move to the second floor, which measures 5,000 square feet and has 16-foot-high ceilings.

The Bakers have a vision of making the upper story into a ballroom that could be used for community events or weddings.

"Lately, our idea is that it really should be a venue. That's historically what it's been for 120 years," Baker said.

"We're not developers ... but that's a use that makes a lot of sense," he said. "If we got going as a venue ... perhaps that could help bring a hotel to town."

Matthew Lind purchased what was once a mechanic's garage at 87 S. Main St. from the city of Independence last fall, with the intent to raze it and construct an event pavilion.

The poor economy, however, dried up capital investors and pushed that concept several years into the future, said Lind, a developer from Salem.

A soil contamination issue on the site since the early 1990s was also a major obstacle, Lind said, noting the problem has recently been resolved with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

"I talked to some big anchor tenants, Rogue Brewery, for instance, and they were not interested," he said. "This was the wrong time for development."

So a short-term idea is to clean the existing structure and make it a beer garden with outdoor seating that caters to Oregon beers by next year, Lind said. The northeastern corner of the lot would also allow room for seasonal vendors.

"We could create a McMenamin's outdoor pub feel and utilize the facility for what it is," he said.

"When the economy is in a better position in five years, we'll have a better concept for the property."

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