Medford City Councilman Al Densmore, left, and Mayor Gary Wheeler disclose plans to take control of the Medford Urban Renewal Agency during a press conference Thursday. - Bob Pennell

Council plans to take over urban renewal

Medford City Council members announced Thursday plans to take control of the Medford Urban Renewal Agency and possibly eliminate staff as a cost-saving measure.

On April 1, the City Council will consider an ordinance that would appoint the council as the board of directors of MURA. Currently, the board is made up of community members and council members.

In addition, city staff might assume the administrative duties of MURA to save money.

City Councilman Al Densmore said $500,000 in administrative costs is spent annually to maintain the MURA offices in downtown Medford.

He said a decision hasn't been made whether to eliminate the position of executive director of MURA or to close down the offices.

Densmore, Mayor Gary Wheeler and other council members said a city takeover of MURA would help wind down the agency that is preparing to sunset in 2013. The city hopes savings from the consolidation will provide more money for other projects in the works.

The city wants to devote its energies to The Commons, which would feature Lithia's headquarters as its centerpiece, a facade improvement program and completion of the Evergreen project, a residential development that was planned around a parking garage at Main and Fir streets.

The city and MURA haven't seen eye to eye recently, including on the failed Evergreen project, the lack of maintenance on two downtown parking structures and beefing up of a popular facade improvement program.

"It's no secret that MURA and the City Council have had disagreements over what was done in the past," Densmore said.

He said he didn't want to focus on the past or be critical of MURA, but concentrate on pushing projects through that are badly needed to help revitalize the downtown area. Densmore applauded previous efforts by MURA to revitalize the community.

MURA Executive Director Jackie Rodgers said she was unaware of the City Council's announcement Thursday.

"That information has not officially been shared with me," she said. "I have no comment."

Densmore said Rodgers wasn't invited to the meeting because decisions will have to be made about staffing at MURA.

"Do we need to retain an executive director?" he said. "That's one of the questions we will have to wrestle with."

Densmore said the city has taken a more active role in MURA recently and has been negotiating to find a developer for the Evergreen project.

The Evergreen parking structure, at Main and Fir streets, originally was designed as the center of a mixed-use development known as Bella Vita that was stalled by lawsuits and the economic downturn.

Since MURA was created on Feb. 4, 1988, it has been involved in the remodeling of the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, development of the South Gateway shopping area, street improvement projects, a facade improvement program, two parking structures and other parking lots.

MURA's funding comes from tax-increment financing, a feature of renewal districts that allows them to sell bonds, build improvements, and then pay off the bonds with the tax dollars the increased property value generates.

Councilman Chris Corcoran said the changes proposed for MURA are similar to the kind of restructuring that private enterprise has undertaken in recent years.

He said it is not unusual for a city council to run an urban renewal agency.

Of the 55 urban renewal agencies in the state, 51 are run by the elected body, not a separate board, Corcoran said.

With so many businesses leaving downtown Medford, Corcoran said it is increasingly important to pump new life back into the local economy.

"Our downtown merchants are screaming at us," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail

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