Council gets earful on spending MURA cash

A drumbeat of support for renovating the Holly Theatre reverberated in the City Council Chambers Thursday even as testy exchanges erupted over how to spend remaining urban renewal dollars.

"Nothing great has been done by not taking risks," said Mark Millner, owner of Terra Firma.

Millner was one of 30 people who made their case before the Medford Urban Renewal Agency Board as its members debate spending $12.5 million dollars. Previous reports indicated MURA had $13.8 million to spend, but apparently about $1 million has been earmarked for projects already in the works.

Other ideas that community members thought should be on the list of 14 downtown projects are the Hawthorne Park renovation at $1.5 million and a request from the Heart of Medford Association for $100,000 for a marketing effort to promote the downtown.

Jefferson Public Radio wants to renovate the 1930 Holly Theatre. Mayor Gary Wheeler has endorsed the project and put in the request for the $1 million in renewal dollars.

MURA board members agreed that they needed more time to consider community reaction before voting on a priority list for the remaining dollars.

Most speakers rejected both $1.6 million for the fire station and $1.8 million for the Fourth Street and Central intersection.

Medford resident Heather McNeal said the city is so concerned with potholes and parking that it is overlooking projects that will drive people into Medford for entertainment and dining.

"When I moved to Medford, everybody said go to Jacksonville or go to Ashland," she said.

McNeal said she's lived in Bend, where two theaters thrive, as well as in Ann Arbor, Mich., which has three theaters.

She urged the MURA board to analyze the projects to determine the ones that will bring the most vitality to Medford.

"Look at them, and pick the things that will create synergy," she said.

The fire station generated the most heat. Most speakers supported a fire station, but said the city should find another way to pay for it.

"I do not believe a fire station is the appropriate use of MURA funds," said Scott Henselman, a commercial property owner.

MURA board member Chris Corcoran said he talked to one of the original leaders of MURA and was told a fire station was part of the original urban renewal goals.

"It was certainly a part of the original mix," he said.

Henselman, who has been active in urban renewal for years, responded, "Disagree."

Lisa James, a Medford marketing consultant, challenged the Holly idea, calling into question the cost of the project and its impact on downtown Medford, particularly on the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater. James is listed as a secretary on the Craterian's board of directors.

"There is a point where competition is good and a point where there is over-competition," she said.

She said JPR's campaign to build the Western Broadcasting Co. studios at Southern Oregon University failed. She said JPR hasn't presented an economic feasibility study or an engineering report on the Holly project. James questioned whether JPR could stay in budget.

"Not true," said Ron Kramer, executive director at JPR.

MURA board Chairman Dick Gordon wouldn't allow Kramer to respond directly to James' comments.

Earlier in the meeting, Kramer said he was going to forward the MURA board an economic plan as well as a construction and engineering report that justifies the $3.5 million cost estimates. Kramer also pointed to the success of the Cascade Theatre in Redding, Calif., helping to revitalize that city's downtown.

Medford resident John Hamlin, another Holly supporter, said he has been critical of MURA over the years.

He said his family has owned property in downtown Medford since the early 1900s, but has been disappointed with the direction the city has taken in its revitalization efforts.

"Now I own zero properties here," he said.

Eagle Point resident David Hammonds has donated time get the lights working at the Holly. He said the theater is the kind of project that calls for urban renewal dollars.

"That area of Medford over there is kind of sad," he said.

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