The Red Lion Hotel in Medford across from the Lithia headquarters is now called The Inn at the Commons. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell photo

Ashland builders find projects in Medford

Arecent flurry of interest in Medford from Ashland developers underscores some of the limited growth potential in the city famous for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Medford's downtown is attempting to go through a revival, while Ashland's bustles with a tourist economy and a limited supply of available properties.

"It's hard for people doing large projects anywhere in Ashland," said Allan Sandler, an Ashland developer who is preparing plans for an elevated residential complex above a parking lot in downtown Medford. "The real reason for the interest in Medford is there's nowhere else to go (in Ashland)."

Sandler has undertaken many projects in Ashland over the years, disputing the impression that the city is anti-growth.

He said Medford has become more creative in attracting developments in recent years.

His latest proposal, endorsed by Medford officials, would involve building 25 residential units above the parking lot across Central Avenue from the downtown library.

Sandler said he wouldn't rule out the possibility of undertaking more developments in Medford.

Ashland residents Becky and Doug Neuman, who own the Ashland Springs Hotel, are in the process of remodeling the former Red Lion Inn, now known as The Inn at the Commons on Riverside Avenue.

The hotel improvements could be the start of a wave of projects around The Commons, said Sid DeBoer, chief executive officer for Medford-based Lithia Motors.

"It's a town to invest in if you got money," he said.

DeBoer said his hometown has an unnecessary fear of growth.

"There is an extreme difference between the cities," DeBoer said. "Medford is more welcoming and engaging."

Medford officials have a different approach to development, he said.

"It's never no," DeBoer said. "It's how can we do it?"

Medford's downtown has deteriorated over the years but is on the rebound, said DeBoer, while Ashland's has a thriving economy with the Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University.

"I live in Ashland. I love the town and all the activity at night," DeBoer said. "It's the cultural hub of the area."

Doug Neuman, citing a setback in attempts to build a four-story complex behind the Ashland Springs Hotel in the 2000s, said Ashland is a difficult environment for a developer.

"I think it's better now, but there's been a few individuals who have made it tough on any new construction and new projects," Neuman said.

Despite a more difficult approach to development in Ashland, Neuman said he sees more common ground between the two cities than differences.

"I've never bought into that Ashland-Medford thing," said Neuman, who noted he is probably more politically aligned with Medford than Ashland. "I see the Rogue Valley as one sort of thing."

Neuman and his wife believe the proliferation of wineries in the region will help unite the valley. Tourists are already traveling from Ashland to Sams Valley to visit the wineries.

The Neumans have been busy developing plans for the remodeling of The Inn at the Commons. They've been meeting with architects and design teams. Neuman said he's ordered new beds and flat-screen TVs for the rooms.

Ashland Mayor John Stromberg said Ashland welcomes development and also supports growth in other cities by Ashland developers.

He said the remodeled Inn at the Commons will provide a top-notch conference center that will benefit the entire valley.

Stromberg said his city has decided to limit its growth and has a more complex land-use ordinance than other cities, though the city revamped the ordinance this week to make it more user friendly.

He cited projects such as Southern Oregon University's massive dormitory complex and a new fire station as examples of development in his city. In addition, Medford resident Randy Jones of First Place Properties is building a residential and business complex on Lithia Way in Ashland. And Stromberg said there will likely be an announcement soon about construction of a boutique hotel.

Also, both the Windmill Inn and Lithia Springs Resort are being renovated, Stromberg noted.

More development in surrounding cities will boost tourism in Ashland and serve to improve the entire region, he said.

"Ashland is an enthusiastic member of the Rogue Valley," Stromberg said. "We all have a common future."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or

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