Medford's mayor and City Council posed for pictures and shook hands on Friday while behind them kids dived down a colorful slide as part of The Commons grand opening.
More than 100 people took advantage of the sun and warm temperatures to attend the opening, which signifies an important shift in getting downtown back on its feet, Mayor Gary Wheeler said. "It's a vision that's been a long time coming," he said.
The ceremony marked the opening of the first of two parks adjoining the Lithia headquarters, which rises four stories above the plaza.
The parks, new roads and Lithia's headquarters are part of a redevelopment project undertaken by the Medford Urban Renewal Agency. MURA has contributed $14 million for the project, and Lithia has contributed $18 million, which mostly covered the cost of its new headquarters.
The second park block could be finished in December, according to Wheeler. It will include a grassy area and a stage that will host outdoor concerts during warm months.
The Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market will open its season at the completed park block on May 11.
Charity Whitmer watched as her 3-year-old daughter, Alison, zipped down the slide and bounced on the rubberized mat beneath the play structure.
Whitmer's husband works at Lithia, and the park gives the family a nice meeting spot during the week.
"I feel safe here," Whitmer said. "We come here and have lunch with my husband. We really enjoy it."
Medford Parks and Recreation Director Brian Sjothun said the city will put the parks to good use in the coming years.
"It's going to be a busy place several times a year," he said.
The annual Christmas tree lighting will be held in the new park, as will the Pear Blossom Festival street fair.
As part of its agreement with Lithia, the city will introduce another yearly event in the park. No decisions have been made on what the event will be.
Councilor Al Densmore said kickstarting downtown revitalization has been a need for decades.
"When you have a thriving downtown, everything else follows," Densmore said. "I really see this space as a gathering place for the community."
The project has progressed in fits and starts since 2006. Since that time, the Lithia building has been scaled down from a 10-story tower to four stories. The headquarters consolidates about 300 of Lithia's downtown Medford employees.
Recently, the city agreed on a $50,000 renovation of the old Greyhound station entrance. The structure will serve as the gateway for the second park block.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.