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Independence develops its own city hall

Daily Journal of Commerce

June 15th 2009

Mike Danko thought he'd be finding a developer to build a new city hall for the city of Independence. Instead, he became the developer.

Danko is both the community development director and the public works director for Independence, a mid-Willamette Valley town of approximately 8,000 people. That makes him a very busy guy.

The recession and finance crunch are making him even busier. Originally, city officials wanted to bring in a firm to develop the new Independence Civic Center. The firm would own the building and lease it back to the city, eventually selling it to the city outright.

But banks balked at that deal, Danko said. Developer and general contractor Joseph Hughes Construction was unable to get financing for the $8 million project. Slayden Construction was also attached to the project before financing fell through.

Now, Independence will own the building. The city has issued a bid for a contractor to build the 36,000-square-foot building. The bid date is 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

The city is issuing bonds to pay for the project, backed by funding from its urban renewal district, which covers much of its T-shaped downtown along Highway 51 and Main Street.

The building will house Independence's city council chambers, police department and administrative offices. The building, designed by Myhre Group Architects, features an open multistory lobby and large windows to allow daylight to reach all offices.

City officials can hardly contain their excitement over the new building, Danko said. That's because the current building can hardly contain them.

"It's way, way, way too small," Danko said. "The architects, when they did a study of our current needs, said we needed 16,000 square feet. This building is 9,000."

The cramped quarters leave no room for storage, and have left employees in less-than-ideal working conditions. "We've got staff in two old jail cells," Danko said. "We've got staff in the hallway."

Independence is thinking big for its new building. The new civic center will be four times the size of the existing city hall.

That takes into consideration the growth expected to continue in the community. From 2000 to 2007, Independence grew by 31 percent, from around 6,000 people to 7,900 people.

The new civic center will live up to its name, Danko said, serving more than just city employees. "We need a new public building that will provide space for the public and groups and advisory committees, places to meet.

"We have one conference room and it's booked all the time."

The new building will anchor the south end of downtown, between E and F streets on South Main Street. Construction could start this summer and wrap up in fall 2010.

Danko expects the project to go smoothly with the city running things. But part of him wishes one of the developer lease-buyback deals went through.

"It would be a turnkey operation," he said. "Now, my summer just went away."