INDEPENDENCE – It wasn’t too long ago that almost every comment about the Old Town Hall in Downtown was likely to include the word ‘boondoggle’. No more. It is now a hub with plans for hoped-for expansion.
Parallel 45, the brewpub and bar that brews signature beer in the same concrete building that once housed city staff and police, is about to celebrate its third anniversary. And the two owners – Ryan Booth and Greg Laird – are seeking grants to remodel the long-vacant east side of the building. The company was selected by the Independence Downtown Association to participate in the state’s “Main Street” grant program, which targets downtown revitalization efforts.
The funding would make way for more retail space, possibly a bike shop. If that happens, it would be the only bike shop in Polk County, according to the grant application.
“It’s been three years of brewing,” Booth said evenly when recently asked how he would characterize the business he started before the coronavirus hit Oregon. The microbrewery’s outside sales have supported Parallel 45 during the pandemic, he added.
And, on many evenings during covid, the outdoor patio was a gathering place, as the fermentation tanks buzzed inside.
The Old City Hall is part of a “historic but dilapidated downtown block,” according to the grant application. “Something needs to be done,” said Paul Reiter, who lives nearby and is known for his meticulous restoration of several historic homes in the area.
The blue concrete block building should be in full use, agreed Sandy Orton, who volunteers weekly at the Independence Library book sale, which stands just across Monmouth Street from the parallel 45. Plus, many city cyclists will love the idea of a place to get service and parts for their two-wheeled transport, she added.
The renovation would include a new storefront and one or two new food truck locations.
“More food carts would be nice here and more support for cyclists would be great,” said Sierra Sullivan, who works at Jimmy’Z, the gas station and market across from the 45 parallel on Second Street.
In the grant application, Independence is described as a city where nearly 9% of the population lives below the poverty line and nearly half of the earners have low to moderate incomes. The grant is for $155,700 and the submission was signed by Shawn Irvine, the city’s Director of Economic Development; The application was compiled by the city’s new grants author, Marshall Guthrie. The $67,000 match required for the project would be funded by landowners — not the city, Irvine said.
Over the past decade, Old City Hall has often been decried for its indescribable appearance in the downtown district – there’s nothing historic about the design, from the building’s rectangular appearance to cement to its sliding aluminum windows. In fact, the city lists it as “not eligible” for any sort of designation for historic preservation.
However, it has remained remarkably durable over the years. When the city offices were moved to the new Independence Civic Center more than a decade ago, the Old City Hall first became a place considered by some to be a “flea market” with different sellers.
After that business disappeared, a Salem-based developer bought it and quickly ripped up the sidewalks, turning them into rubble.
When the Old City Hall changed hands for the third time, surrounded by catwalks with large fragments of sidewalk and with a faded cement block exterior, many expressed doubts about it. The city funded new sidewalks, and the new owners repackaged the exterior of the building. Inside, beer has become the city’s local product.
“I would love to see the entire Old City Hall building put to use,” said Kathy Hubele, who has lived in Independence for nearly two decades. She remembers when he was released by city staff for the stately new building on Main. “What I love, and I think is such a great thing, is reusing something like that,” she said.
Several pedestrians who were later questioned about this opinion as they strolled past the Old Town Hall wholeheartedly endorsed Hubele’s view. “Now if only we could see this happen with another old building,” one said, gesturing across the street, where a half-built skeletal structure now called “Station 203”, after 15 years without much progress.
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