By DAMIAN MANN
A25-year effort to revitalize the city center is about to head into the sunset as the Medford Urban Renewal Agency prepares to spend most of its remaining $10.5 million in the coming fiscal year.
“I would like to say this upcoming budget is the last biggie,” said Dick Gordon, chairman of MURA.
When all is said and done, MURA will have spent more than $70 million on projects over its life, with half that amount going to parking alone.
The 2013-14 budget contains $3 million for parking.
MURA will hold a public hearing on the budget at noon Thursday in the City Hall Council Chambers, 411 W. Eighth St.
Mark Millner, chairman of the Medford Parking Commission, told the City Council Thursday that parking problems are more of a perceptual issue in the downtown rather than a reality. He said MURA should invest its remaining dollars more in upgrading Hawthorne Park and Bear Creek than for parking.
“Be very cautious as you move forward,” he said.
The budget does contain $900,000 for Hawthorne Park, but more money will be needed to make all the improvements planned at the park. MURA officials hope some of the projects on the list come in under budget so money can be shifted to Hawthorne.
MURA will finish off its flagship project, The Commons, this year, after spending a total of $14.1 million over the past few years on a project that has been scaled back significantly.
Originally, three park blocks were envisioned for The Commons, but instead two will be completed. The area where the third park was going to be built, between Fourth and Third streets, could become a hotel or parking lot, and most of the property is owned by Lithia Motors.
The Lithia headquarters, originally conceived of as a 10-story building, was scaled back to four stories.
Gordon said the investment in The Commons will pay off as the area around the two parks is built up.
“I’m very optimistic,” Gordon said. “There’s a lot happening in the downtown.”
Partly because of The Commons, Pacific Retirement Services, Rogue Disposal and Recycling and Procare Software have decided to build an office complex around the Evergreen parking garage, also a MURA project.
In the upcoming budget cycle, MURA plans to contribute $2 million as an incentive toward the Evergreen office complex project known as One West Main.
In its Thursday meeting, the MURA board is expected to approve about $150,000 in facade-improvement grants for downtown businesses, including $80,000 for Lithia as part of a $500,000 renovation of the Monarch building, which is directly north of Lithia’s headquarters. Plans include adding more windows on the west side to orient the building at 315 E. Fifth St. toward one of the new parks.
MURA has set aside $2 million to buy land and create more parking in the downtown. That’s in addition to $1 million to buy the Dollar GMC lot on the corner of Riverside Avenue and 10th Street to turn it into a parking lot.
While MURA likely will spend most of its remaining dollars this fiscal year, some projects could spill over into the following fiscal year.
Councilor Al Densmore, who is on the MURA board along with the rest of the City Council members, said the $2 million for parking has not been set aside for any particular project.
“It’s sort of a placeholder amount,” he said.
He said MURA hopes to find an opportunity such as the Dollar GMC lot, which it is in the process of purchasing.
Looking back over the history of MURA, Densmore said he believes it has done much to improve the downtown, though some projects were tabled and others scaled back.
“I think it’s a solid B-plus if you consider the whole effort,” he said.
He said a lot of the pieces are coming together, and businesses are moving into the downtown.
“It’s a happening kind of place,” he said.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.