Sunday, December 08, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
Michael Danko, Independence community development director, has been with the city for 24 years and spearheaded many of the downtown revitalization projects.
October 15, 2013
INDEPENDENCE -- Anyone living in Independence during the mid-1990s who moved away might not recognize what their old downtown has become.
Beginning in 1996, city planners put to work a major revamping strategy with a new streetscape and didn't let up for the better part of 17 years.
Though the streetscape was a much-needed addition to the destitute downtown, it was child's play compared to what the city had up its sleeve.
In the last decade, the city has started or completed several major projects in the 20 square blocks that make up the downtown core.
Perhaps the most striking feature of Independence's downtown revitalization is Riverview Park and Amphitheater.
The amphitheater has played a role with almost every event and festival that has occurred in the downtown area since its completion in 2006.
"From the beginning we called the amphitheater our living room," Shawn Irvine, Independence economic development director, said. "It's where people go to hang out, it's where people go to gather. That was the thinking when we made it."
The city's ambitious approach to the downtown overhaul is a manifestation of the character of the people of Independence, Mayor John McArdle said.
"It's about attitude. The things that are happening are because of the energy of our people," he said. "We're not a sleepy, dead-in-the-water place."
The most recent project for Independence was the opening of the new boat ramp Sept. 24. It is located north of downtown between Polk Street and Hanna Road at what will become the city's ball field complex.
The seven-year process from concept to completion was one of the most arduous for city planners.
"Just to get all the environmental permitting done and the archaeological work that had to be done, there's probably 150 archaeological test pits on that site," Michael Danko, community development director, said. "We were denied the grant the first time because we didn't have the environmental permits in hand."
With so many projects in the works at the same time, Independence city planners couldn't always choose which would be a priority.
As soon as a grant came through or in some cases a bond measure passed for a project, it jumped to the head of the line.
"The way funding works, you might have a list of 10 projects. Funding, all of a sudden, pops up for No. 7," Danko said. "So, out of the blue, No. 7 goes to the top. That's kind of how it fell out."
From 2003, when the Independence Public Library was completed, to 2013, the city wrapped up four major projects and started work on another.
The library, civic center and amphitheater were the most expensive projects on the city's plate in that stretch, with a total cost of $14.65 million.
Much of the funding for the library came through grants and a large portion of the work for the amphitheater was volunteered by the Oregon National Guard.
What the city had been working toward for years met an unplanned and abrupt snag in 2008.
"No one knew the recession was coming. We got hit just like anyone else got hit," Danko said. "Hindsight is 20/20, but we were operating correctly at the time. We took on projects based on projections that our consultants gave us."
The dragging economy and mounting debt forced the city to propose the debt refinancing bond measure in May, which passed with a comfortable 9 percent margin.
Now that the new boat ramp is complete, the city is eyeing a few more wish list items.
The ongoing work at the ball field complex, completing the water/sewer master plan and continuing the trail system along the Willamette River are the most pressing tasks at hand for Independence.
But, as history has shown, nothing is certain.
"If a big development pops up or a big employer comes in, that could make everything obsolete," Danko said. "A city is never done."