Bella Vita to get sidewalks, fencing, landscaping

A little cosmetic surgery is in the works for the recently shelved six-story residential and commercial Bella Vita project in downtown Medford.

Situated between Main and Eighth streets and Fir Street and Evergreen Way, the site was relabeled the Evergreen Mixed Use Project following the Medford Urban Renewal Agency board's decision in March to put an end to an ambitious public-private partnership.

The long-awaited downtown project was planned to include condos, specialty shops and high-end offices, wrapped around MURA's parking garage on the block. Only the parking garage has been built.

The collapse of the Bella Vita plan due to construction delays and a downturn in the real estate market has left the site in development limbo, languishing as a half-finished building. So MURA is moving ahead with some temporary improvements in the form of new sidewalks, fencing and a bit of landscaping, said Jackie Rodgers, MURA director.

"We're making some temporary improvements at a minimal cost so that the area is more attractive," said Rodgers.

Drawings for the proposed sidewalks are scheduled to be completed and sent out to bid on May 30. Bids will be due on June 17 with a contract awarded just one week later. On July 7, construction should begin with a scheduled completion date of Sept. 30, Rodgers said.

Replacing the current orange construction fencing with a new vinyl-coated chain link fence and adding some small trees and planters also are being discussed, Rodgers said.

Bella Vita was estimated to cost $25 million when it was unveiled in 2005. The three six-story buildings were planned to include about 64 residential units, 55,000 square feet of office space and 19,000 square feet of commercial space. Occupancy was originally planned for the first condominiums in September 2006. The latest price list ranged from $250,000 to $690,000 for condominiums.

But the project was derailed by a complaint filed with the Bureau of Labor and Industries that maintained all work should be paid at government-set prevailing wages. That increased the price of the condos and pushed the start-up date directly into the path of the downturn in residential housing.

Rodgers has attributed the project's failure to the time delay caused by the BOLI investigation and the real estate market problems. She said she doesn't fault the project's Portland developer, Terry Cook.

Rodgers said the funds MURA has put into the property over the years are not lost because the site remains ready for another development. By releasing Cook from the agreement, MURA is open to other developers' plans.

But Rodgers said she imagines it will be some time before the market turns around and a new project is presented.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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