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Survey Shows Independence Lacking In Tourism Approach

INDEPENDENCE -- The proximity to nearby cities, strong historical heritage and a scenic park and amphitheater fronting the Willamette River are all attributes Independence has that many cities would e

INDEPENDENCE -- The proximity to nearby cities, strong historical heritage and a scenic park and amphitheater fronting the Willamette River are all attributes Independence has that many cities would envy.

Yet that park is "underutilized" or empty; unfinished buildings are hurting downtown, and electronic and social media presence for the city and its festivals are limited or nonexistent.

Ouch.

Those are among the conclusions of a recently published tourism survey on Independence.

The study was commissioned by officials as the basis for a future local marketing plan and a more regional effort with other communities in Polk County, said Shawn Irvine, city economic development director.

Representatives of Portland-based Avid Traveler Consultants conducted an analysis three months ago to identify the city's assets and weaknesses and branding opportunities.

"I don't think we're trying to turn Independence into some grand destination where it (tourism) is a bulk of our economy," Irvine said.

"But it's a valid economic sector that's not just about bringing visitors to town, but more businesses."

Besides observation, Avid consultants interviewed city officials, community stakeholders and local business owners.

The report lauded the city's potential as a gateway to birding, cycling and paddling.

It has a "stunning" park, a number of festivals and unique shopping opportunities for antiquing and crafts. Nearby Wings of Wonder and the Rogue Ale farm are one-of-a-kind attractions, the report said.

Among listed weaknesses and obstacles:

A general lack of coordinated marketing, other than historic preservation.

The city doesn't appear to receive much publicity from regional direct marketing organizations.

Promotion of existing community festivals needs improvement. Marketing for them is scarce and websites for events are mostly outdated. "Eighty percent of travelers now start their research for planning trips by searching on the Internet," the report said.

Lack of a "robust" rest-aurant scene.

No hotel and the resulting tax/lodging revenue.

Some criticism was expected, Irvine said. The city hasn't had the personnel to maintain a constant web presence and it shows, he said.

Survey recommendations included organizing area farm tours for travel writers, seeking funding for visitor communications or creating a walk-through Christmas light display in the park.

Cheryl Gaston, proprietor of Independence House Bed and Breakfast and one of those interviewed in the assessment, said she agrees that the downtown riverfront is underutilized.

"I've lived in two other towns by rivers and they were scenes of vital activity," Gaston said.

She disagreed with a description of Independence's restaurants being "unexceptional." She also opined creating new festivals wasn't a necessity.

"I think Independence can be a hub you can explore from and be a destination," she said. "But first, let's leverage what we have as the reason to come here and work it."

To view the tourism survey: www.micc-or.org.

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