Like other Medford business owners, Chris Dennett, owner of Elements Tapas Bar and Lounge, believes the remaining MURA money should be spent on encouraging economic development downtown, not on public works projects such as building a new fire station.

Misguided priorities?

Downtown business owners have blasted Medford officials for tentatively earmarking remaining urban renewal dollars for public works rather than for projects that would pump economic vitality into Medford.

"I think that hijacking the money for a fire station in downtown Medford is not in the original plans," said Chris Dennett, owner of Elements Tapas Bar and Lounge.

The Heart of Medford Association is sending a letter to the city taking aim at the lack of focus and lack of follow-through on the part of the Medford Urban Renewal Agency.

"Why does MURA leave so many projects unfinished? What does that tell the community about our sense of pride and commitment?" the letter states.

The city has a long wish list for the $13.8 million left in the Medford Urban Renewal Agency budget, but some of the projects that have been put high on the list include a Fourth Street realignment, traffic signal replacement and a new fire station.

The MURA board, made up of City Council members, will meet at noon today in the Council Chambers, 411 W. Eighth St., to discuss what to do with the remaining dollars.

"While fire safety is definitely a priority for city government, do you truly believe that this is the best use of limited urban renewal funds?" the letter states. "How does it eliminate blight? How does it increase economic development?"

Laz Ayala, who owns about $5 million in properties in the downtown area, said he doesn't think anyone in the downtown has anything against these projects, but he said the city should find another way to finance them.

"Frankly, it's a disappointment," Ayala said. "They are misappropriating funds that belong to us."

Ayala said Medford has become more vibrant over the past 10 years, but still lags behind other cities of its size because of often bungled attempts to revitalize the downtown.

"We should be embarrassed, but that's not to say we have nothing," he said.

Downtown now has more restaurants, he said. In addition, the downtown has the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, a new library, the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center and street improvements.

George Schroeder, owner of Schroeder's Furniture, Collectibles and Antiques, said the Fourth Street realignment should be paid for by Lithia Motors since that project would primarily benefit the new corporate headquarters.

Schroeder said he would like to see the remaining urban renewal dollars spent on more facade improvements. He said the original goals of urban renewal were to improve sidewalks and alleys around business areas.

"I think they should finish the projects they started," he said.

Schroeder also suggested he would like an indoor aquatics center in Hawthorne Park, which would not only create a more family-friendly environment but generate dollars locally. He said downtown businesses would also benefit from an aquatics center that would be accessible year round.

Chris Corcoran, City Council member and MURA board member, said the list is still tentative, but came about as a consensus among all board members.

"It can be changed or modified," he said. "It will be up to the board to make changes if the majority deems they need to make changes."

Corcoran said he's sorry if the Heart of Medford Association doesn't agree with the tentative priorities, but pointed out that the association doesn't speak for the downtown as a whole.

Many merchants think the city should have done more to market the downtown, which now boasts about 35 restaurants. Downtown restaurants have pledged $40,000 a year toward marketing, but would like support from the city as well.

Many merchants have supported MURA's facade improvement program, including Elements, which is about to get a facelift to match the improvements on the inside.

"You can have the most beautiful buildings in your downtown core, but what's the point if people don't come to the downtown?" said Dennett.

He said he and other merchants are dismayed at how difficult it is to get any real change in Medford. As an example, he said the city doesn't seem to be doing enough to encourage the renovation of the Holly Theatre, which would bring more traffic to restaurants.

Dennett said the city has had marketing experts provide advice on how to brand the city, but a lot of the advice has been ignored.

"Part of it, as a city, we seem to be pretty nihilistic," he said. "We seem to be really good at starting things, but also really good at giving up."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email

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