INDEPENDENCE — The sun shone brightly in Independence on Monday at a historic groundbreaking ceremony 20 years in the making: a hotel is being built on Independence Landing, 2.5 miles of riverfront property lining the Willamette River.
This project has been in the works for a long time, since 1996, Mayor John McArdle said. “This wasn’t just one person’s idea,” he said. “The community helped us come up with the idea that a hotel and a development right here makes sense.”
The hotel will be built by developer Tokola Properties and managed by Embarcadero Group LLC.
The hotel will add value to both Independence and Monmouth, former city councilor Nancy Lodge said, with guests at Western Oregon University and, specifically, the Smith Fine Arts Series.
City Manager David Clyne said the hotel will serve the local wine industry and the booming cycling tourism niche.
Rep. Paul Evans said he has watched as little bits and pieces of the plan has come together for the last 20 years.
“And now, it’s actually coming to fruition,” he said. “It is the story of the Little Engine that Could, and I think, in many ways, this community, this special partnership in this part of Polk County, it reflects what Gandhi said, ‘Greatness lies in doing something that everybody could do but didn’t.’ This community actually finds a way to do those things and do it together.”
Dwight Unti, owner and president of Tokola Properties, said he and his team have been focused on the vision of marrying hospitality use and new housing to energize the historic downtown district in Independence.
“Let me tell you, we wanted to create something that was dynamic, that was unique, that would provide an experience when people came to stay at the hotel, that will allow them to relax, to unplug, to enjoy and explore this beautiful community, to enjoy the river and all that this community has to offer,” he said. “That is what our vision was.”
Rooms in the boutique hotel will be larger than normal, adorned with wonderful furnishings, Unti said. “We paired that with tremendous river views and a whole host of robust amenities.”
A restaurant and bar emphasizing local wines and craft beers will open onto a patio with a fireplace, Unti said. The hotel includes a fitness center, fully stocked bike repair room, and private massage treatment room.
“And get this, it has a rooftop deck that’s going to have some of the most award-winning views anywhere,” he said. “How great it’s going to be to be able to gather with you all as we enjoy the theater and river and mountains and this wonderful country all around.”
Unti said the progress made at the site was an example of the power of a public-private partnership.
“When you have a committed, dedicated, determined public partner join together with a mission-oriented private development group, you can overcome challenges that are otherwise impossible to meet,” he said.
Todd Davidson, chief executive officer for Travel Oregon, said he is already familiar with what Independence has to offer, as he and his wife have frequently traveled from their home on the other side of the bridge to spend the Fourth of July in Independence, as well as concerts and movies in the park.
The groundbreaking was another testament to the community, Davidson said.
“This hotel is going to be a catalyst for you to be able to enhance the local economy and that broader work that is going on in Polk County, and we’re thrilled at Travel Oregon to be invited to be a part of it,” he said.
Nearly 30 million people travel to Oregon to visit each year, Davidson said.
“They are going to be thrilled to be able to get a taste of what you have to offer them here in Independence,” he said. “This new hotel is going to afford them an opportunity they have not had before: an opportunity to stay locally, to be able to spend a little bit more time with you. ... You have the kind of experience here that our visitors are traveling around the world to be able to live firsthand, because that’s what they want. They want an opportunity to interact with Oregonians. Authentic Oregonians in authentic, real places. And that’s what you’re going to be delivering for them here.”
The hotel is planned for opening in May 2019, and will be the central piece of the riverfront property development.
“It will take our city and the downtown to another level economically and put Independence on the map as the hub for Polk County’s growing tourism industry,” McArdle said. “People keep asking, ‘how did we do all this cool stuff?’ Well let me tell ya. We engage the community. We focus on being a great, vibrant small town. And we find great partners to work with. Vision. Good work. Make friends with those who share your dreams. And vision.”