The Commons falls short of expectations

Issues big and small with The Commons project, from cost overruns to no drinking fountains and a lack of electrical outlets, frustrated the Medford Urban Renewal Agency board Thursday.

"I'm a little dismayed," MURA board member John Michaels said. "I asked about sufficient electrical in the first park block, and I was assured there was plenty."

MURA board members also were dismayed to learn that they had almost tapped out the $14.1 million earmarked for The Commons, a downtown redevelopment project featuring two parks and the Lithia headquarters. Lithia also has been the general contractor for the two parks.

MURA built the first park at the corner of Sixth Street and Bartlett Avenue, but organizers of recent events noticed there were a few things missing.

"Apparently none of the planners envisioned electricity in the middle of the park," said Sally Densmore, president of the Heart of Medford Association.

Food vendors found insufficient number of electrical outlets. Also, they couldn't find an adequate number of water hookups.

Terri Ainsworth with the Pear Blossom Festival said, "A water fountain would be nice as we had hundreds of people ask for one."

Jill Kennedy, manager of the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Saturday Market in The Commons, said, "Many times we were asked where's the bathroom or the drinking fountain. There is none."

The bathrooms are located in the Middleford parking garage, but no drinking fountain was installed in the park.

A second park just to the north will be built this summer after MURA selected KOGAP Enterprises Inc. of Medford as the low bidder at a cost of $1,690,953. The city worked with the contractor to find ways to cut back on construction costs to $1,526,953.

Even with the lower bid, the project cost more than was originally estimated.

As a result, the Medford Parks and Recreation Department will cover the $153,615 shortfall for the new park from its budget. The money will pay for a stage structure and dressing room.

The city also will install tables and chairs in the already completed park at a cost of $21,000.

Money was so tight for the second park that the city was considering cutting out the slope on a lawn area and a raised stage because it would cost an extra $70,000.

Ultimately, the MURA board approved the contract and agreed to dip into contingencies for the project to pay for the raised stage.

The MURA board also wanted to know what it would cost to add a drinking fountain, extra power and more areas to tap into a water line for vendors.

The MURA board was also concerned that the water feature wasn't yet working in the first park. City officials still are trying to get a permit from the Jackson County Health Department for the water feature.

With so little money left for The Commons, MURA board Chairman Dick Gordon worried that more cost overruns could devour any remaining contingency dollars.

"There needs to be better control of change orders," Gordon said.

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

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