Artist's rendering of the new Lithia headquarters. Business owners believes the new Lithia headquarters will be a shot in the arm for Medford's downtown.

Lithia's 'leap of faith'

Lou Fisk expects magic from her hair stylist at Attitudes Salon, one of several businesses tucked under the Middleford parking garage.

The 63-year-old Jacksonville woman hopes Lithia's new glass and granite headquarters will perform similar magic in transforming downtown Medford.

"You look at Grants Pass," she said. "Their downtown is alive. That's not happening here."

Most people don't think Lithia and Medford's plans for a 69,000-square-foot building and park blocks will turn the downtown into a happening place, however. "I don't think anyone is under the misconception that this is going to be a silver bullet for downtown," said Mark DeBoer, Lithia's vice president for real estate.

But DeBoer and others do believe the headquarters, which will be under construction within a month, will bring some vitality to the downtown.

On the first floor, there will be a restaurant, a coffee shop and other retail businesses. About 300 Lithia workers, scattered in offices throughout Medford, will be concentrated in the one four-story building. During construction, several hundred people should be employed, DeBoer said.

He said the restaurant likely will be a national chain that offers boutique cuisine.

Outside, two city blocks on Bartlett Street will be transformed into little parks.

The project is bounded by North Riverside Avenue, East Sixth Street, North Bartlett Street and East Fourth Street.

The Middleford garage currently stands as a visual impediment between the south side of Bartlett and the north side.

Up to $300,000 will be spent to create a walkway through the garage so pedestrians can get from one side to the other, connecting the Lithia building area to Main Street.

DeBoer, who lives in Medford, said his national company is committed to the city and the Rogue Valley. The headquarters, he said, will help raise the bar for the downtown.

"The downtown is really the heart of the community," he said. "Our downtown is a little lacking."

The total cost for Lithia's portion of the project is about $18 million, including land acquisition.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency is contributing $14 million to the project in the form of infrastructure, property acquisition and the development of the park blocks.

Tina DeAvilla, owner of Attitudes, said she's surprised at the amount of foot traffic she already sees on Middleford Alley.

With the garage remodeled to provide better access to Bartlett and with 300 employees housed in Lithia's headquarters, DeAvilla said it will bring a lot more traffic past her salon.

"Everybody wants the downtown to be a success," she said.

Bob Mayers, co-owner of Adroit Construction Co. Inc. of Ashland, said demolition of the old Greyhound bus terminal will begin sometime after May 1, with construction of the headquarters scheduled for June.

Mayers said Lithia is making a substantial financial investment that will stimulate downtown Medford.

"It's going to be a jump-start for the city," he said. "It's a great leap of faith here for Lithia."

Motorists traveling along Riverside Avenue will see a small display of new cars. Mayers said Lithia expects to also feature electric vehicles that will be new on the market.

Sally Densmore of Heart of Medford Association said she doesn't expect dramatic changes after the headquarters are built, but she said it will be one of many projects that will give the downtown a shot in the arm.

She said there already are signs of more life in the downtown.

The number of first-story building space that is unoccupied on Main Street between Riverside and the railroad tracks is only 3 percent, she said. However, there still are many buildings on the west side of the tracks that are unoccupied.

Other projects, such as the remodeling of the Sparta Building at the corner of Riverside and Main, are helping to transform Medford, she said.

"All these projects are working toward bringing more people to the downtown," Densmore said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail

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