The Independence Hotel in Independence, Oregon.
The main floor lobby of The Independence Hotel in Independence, Oregon.
The bike room off the main floor lobby of The Independence Hotel in Independence, Oregon.
An eclectic room inside The Independence Hotel in Independence, Oregon.

Can’t Miss Independence

New hotel helping revitalize wine country downtown

By Dan Shryock

A new hotel catering to wine and outdoor lovers recently opened in downtown Independence. In the process, the hotel is helping to open this Polk County community to the Oregon tourism industry.

The Independence, a 75-room boutique hotel, is located adjacent to the city’s Riverview Park and the Willamette River. Its mid-September start marks a major step in a two-decades-long city redevelopment effort. The riverfront area, for years the center of community celebrations and events, is now an outdoor recreation destination.

“[The city] has not been on the map as a destination, but there are so many special things here,” says Sondra Storm, chief executive officer of Portland-based Embarcadero Hospitality Group. “You have the river, the cycling, the wine and a very charming historic downtown.”

The new hotel is positioned to appeal to several visitor markets, Storm says. Wine tourism ranks high for the hotel with the growing number of wineries and vineyards in the nearby Eola-Amity Hills AVA and across Polk County.

“We’re going to be a hub for wineries, weddings and events,” Storm says, reporting that 2020 wedding bookings already are filling the calendar. “[Area] wineries have been very eager to have us here, so we’re thrilled. This region is really special, but people come and they don’t necessarily have a place to stay that matches what they want — something unique and different. We want to give those folks that place.”

And yet, The Independence is not counting on wine tourism alone to fill its rooms. Ownership expects reservations from a growing Polk County business community, outdoor recreation and guests drawn to the area by nearby Western Oregon University. The college’s graduation weekends and parents’ campus visits bring in business, but market research revealed another source of guests: college athletic teams. Visiting squads need overnight accommodations and the hotel furnished extra rooms with two queen beds to meet the demand.

Outdoor recreation is a focal point as well. Cyclists, bird watchers, kayakers and rafters use Riverview Park before or after excursions. The hotel now provides their lodging.

“There are so many special things here — the river, the cycling, the wine,” Storm emphasizes. “There’s a charming historic downtown with a great main street you can walk and find cupcakes or a brewery.”

City Redevelopment

The City of Independence started developing a downtown revitalization strategy more than 20 years ago, and the new hotel “represents a validation of all that work and planning, and will spur even more revitalization,” says Shawn Irvine, the city’s economic development director. Integral to that plan is establishing Independence on the state’s wine map.

“The wine industry in Polk County has never had a ‘home base’ like the communities in Yamhill County,” Irvine says. “The Independence hotel establishes [the city] as the hub of Polk County’s wine industry. The availability of quality lodging will create a regional benefit. Overnight visitors spend exponentially more than day-trippers. It’s hard to promote a region without quality lodging. With The Independence open, we’ll be able to work with our tourism partners to increase the visibility of the region.”

Appealing to Cyclists

Hotel planners made a concerted effort to target bicyclists arriving for the area’s increasingly popular routes along the Willamette River basin and across wine country. The Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, the first of Oregon’s 17 officially designated bike routes, follows the east side of the river. Riders can easily reach the bikeway from the hotel by riding over the Independence Bridge a few blocks away. And, several cycling events scheduled each summer in the Independence/Monmouth area attract hundreds of riders for a weekend. Eola Hills Wine Cellars, less than eight miles north in Rickreall, brings more than 100 riders to the area every Sunday in August.

To accommodate riders and their expensive bicycles, hotel management designed storage nooks in rooms, so each machine can stay with its owner. Halls on each floor are a little wider than hotel standards, in part, to allow bikes more room to pass, Storm says. Cyclists can maintain or repair their bikes in a designated room adjacent to the lobby. Two bike stands with tools and air pumps are provided and a stainless-steel sink and counter is available for easy cleanup. Outside, a third repair station is available for public use.

“Cycling really stood out to us,” Storm says. “The big thing was the in-room bike storage. We incorporated it into the architectural design and made the rooms wider. We love that aesthetic.”

From the hotel room balconies to the rooftop deck and the restaurant patio below, there are vistas of the Willamette River most everywhere in the hotel. “We angled the building so that all the rooms have some view of the river,” she says. “The restaurant and bar have river views and the patio opens up to the fire pit.” Many of the rooms are suites so brides, grooms and wedding parties have more space to prepare. Rooms with long balconies closest to the river may be able to spot osprey nesting on a pole between the hotel and the water.

Oregon Wines Celebrated

There’s no escaping the river when entering Territory, the hotel’s restaurant and bar. Tall windows surround the space exposing the Willamette as it bends its way toward Salem. While feasting on the views, diners can indulge on the Pacific Northwest-inspired menu featuring locally sourced ingredients — the wine list pairs well with a bounty of Oregon offerings. Small plates are offered as early as 2 p.m., seven days a week, and for those on the go, the Territory provides boxed lunches.

The functional restaurant space can be converted into a reception area for late afternoon gatherings and wine tastings featuring local vineyards. Sit inside or take your wine to the patio and fire pit.

“Our food and beverage director spent a lot of time with vineyards getting to know the wines,” Storm says. “We plan to rotate [the wine list] because there are so many exceptional wineries around here.”

Web Design and Web Development by Buildable