MURA spending plan Big on spending, not as much on planning

After months of debate, the Medford Urban Renewal Agency on Thursday approved a $28.6 million budget for 2011-12 that is anything but carved in stone.

A list of 17 new projects has been approved, but MURA board members made it clear the dollars set aside for those projects could change markedly.

"We are going to carefully study each item before the money is spent," said Chris Corcoran, a MURA board member and city councilman.

For example, $1 million has been reserved for rehabilitating Hawthorne Park. But no plan has been presented on what should be done to make the park more family-friendly.

Much of the budget will be spent on projects that are already in the works, such as the facade improvement program and The Commons, a multi-block rehabilitation that will include the headquarters for Lithia Motors.

The MURA board's focus has been on determining how to spend $12.5 million on new projects that will have the most impact on revitalizing the downtown. However, more than a third of this money has been set aside for extensive maintenance work, including $2.9 million for the two parking garages and $1.6 million for the parking lots.

The MURA board directed city staff members to provide an analysis of each new project to make sure the city is getting the best value for the money spent. Some of the projects might end up getting more money or less depending on the staff analysis and the MURA board's determination.

Mayor Gary Wheeler, who is also a MURA board member, said the dollar amount could change for each project but he doubted that any project would be removed from the list.

The board has vigorously debated some of the proposals, including setting aside $950,000 for a new fire station and $1.8 million for a new intersection at Fourth Street and Central Avenue.

The Holly Theatre, which has $200,000 allotted, also was debated as well as marketing for the Heart of Medford Association, which is slated to receive $50,000.

The popular facade improvement program could get an additional $750,000. But MURA board members indicated they want to change the program to include sidewalk rehabilitation as well as facade work on downtown businesses.

Mark Millner, owner of Terra Firma, urged the MURA board to push for projects that will help the local economy and attract people to the downtown, such as the Holly Theatre and the Bear Creek restoration.

"These projects will create the most buzz in the downtown," Millner said.

He said improving Bear Creek will change the negative perception many have of the area.

The MURA board has set aside $100,000 for Bear Creek restoration.

Jim Hutchins, who teaches local students through his Oregon Stewardship program, urged the board to consider putting more effort into cleaning up the creek. At the same time, he applauded the city for the dollars it has spent to clean up the creek.

Hutchins and local students built bioswales to filter road runoff and they ripped out weeds. He said the city should continue to help these largely volunteer efforts.

"Let's get those blackberries," he said.

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

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