Special Medford district proposed

Boosting downtown Medford's image through a marketing push is one of the goals of a proposal to raise nearly $280,000 through the creation of a special district in the downtown core.

The City Council at noon Thursday will consider a resolution to explore the creation of an Economic Improvement District that would raise the money over a three-year period.

"We want to reinforce the idea that the downtown is a place to shop, dine, play and learn," said Diane Raymond, executive director of the Heart of Medford Association.

"Shop, dine, play and learn" is a mantra developed for local businesses, with "learn" a reference to Rogue Community College and Southern Oregon University, both of which have a presence downtown, Raymond said.

She said an average property owner in the downtown would pay about $300 annually toward the district.

She said up to 150 properties in the downtown core would be subject to the assessment if it's approved by the city. The fee would apply only to owners of property in the downtown, and not in the rest of the city.

The district would roughly encompass an area from Bear Creek on the east, Holly Street on the west, Fourth Street on the north and 10th Street on the south.

In talks with property owners and businesses, the idea that generated the most enthusiasm was developing an ongoing media campaign to get the word out about what Medford has to offer.

Maintaining tree wells, purchasing benches and installing hanging flower baskets along Main Street are some of the other proposals on the table.

Raymond said the district will attempt to provide materials and signs that describe the events and businesses in the downtown.

In the past, ideas for the downtown often haven't gained much traction because of a lack of funding, Raymond said.

One idea to install banners on the sides of businesses failed to gain steam, with only one business currently participating, she said.

John Duffie, a downtown architect and member of the Heart of Medford board of directors, said the district is being patterned after a similar idea from Bend.

He said the need for the district has increased because the Medford Urban Renewal Agency will soon sunset as an organization.

Medford has undertaken numerous studies over the years, searching for ways to improve the downtown.

"When it comes to the actual implementation, the actual shelling out of dollars, we have a difficult time," Duffie said.

The city has been installing new street lights that are capable of supporting banners and flower baskets. Duffie said a plan would have to be worked out to get the banners and baskets installed, then to maintain them.

Marketing the downtown will be key, but increasing support for Raymond will also be critical, Duffie said. He said she currently works just 20 hours a week. He's also worried about the turnover of executive directors in recent years.

"She's way overworked and way underpaid," Duffie said. "We need an executive director who works 40 hours a week."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

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