Special downtown Medford district plan rejected

New hanging flower baskets are not likely to festoon Main Street anytime soon after a proposal for a special district in downtown Medford was turned aside by downtown property owners.

"We were defeated," said Diane Raymond, executive director for the Heart of Medford Association.

Raymond said that for the district to move forward, she could receive objections from owners of no more than 33 percent of the properties.

However, owners of 36 percent of the properties objected to the plan, which would have assessed the largest properties $2,500 annually.

"We missed it by 3 percentage points," Raymond said.

Despite the defeat, Raymond said she was ready for a second try to persuade about 120 property owners that it's in their best interest to support an economic improvement district that would beautify and market the downtown.

"The only real failure is to not give it another chance," Raymond said. "We need something to revitalize downtown."

The City Council last Thursday agreed to give the Heart of Medford another year to garner support for a district that would collect $271,000 over a three-year period.

In addition to marketing, district supporters said the district could take on such things as maintaining tree wells, purchasing benches and installing hanging flower baskets along Main Street.

Raymond said the manner in which the district is formed has to follow state statutes, which she said created some confusion. Instead of asking how many properties supported the district, the city asked how many opposed it.

"The biggest problem was in the process itself," she said.

The proposed assessments would be based on the number of linear feet of store frontage, with a cap of $2,500 annually on any one property and a cap of $500 annually for a non-profit property. Residential properties and parking lots would be exempt. The district would extend from Bear Creek on the east to Holly Street on the west, and from 10th Street on the south to Fourth Street on the north.

The property owners, not the businesses, would be required to pay the tax — even if the building were empty.

Raymond said miscommunication and confusion about the district were some of the problems she encountered.

She said some business owners complained that 17 percent was too much to pay for administration of the district. She said that amount is in line with other economic districts. Raymond said Bend pays 40 percent for administration.

Fred Robinson, who owns a building on Central Avenue across from the Craterian Theater, said he objected to the way the city reached out to the community and asked for objections rather than seeking support.

"This is not the American system," he said.

Also, he said, the letter sent to the property owners was worded differently than the rules set out at the council meeting.

Robinson said the letter indicated the threshold for objections was 33 percent of property owners. At the meeting, he said he learned it was 33 percent of the properties in the district, not the individual property owners.

Robinson also said he wasn't sure how much landlords would have paid toward events and activities in the downtown, and how much tenants would have paid.

Councilor Dick Gordon said some local property owners were confused by the district proposal, including those who mistakenly thought it would involve a citywide fee or assessment.

Gordon noted that supporters of the district came close to approval, and said the downtown would benefit from a district that has dedicated funds for marketing.

"I think it's needed to keep the momentum up in the downtown," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.

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