The Commons will honor history

MEDFORD — An application is under review at City Hall for the demolition of eight buildings to make way for The Commons. Meanwhile, plans are emerging for monuments, murals and details that pay tribute to the neighborhood's railroad, bus and automobile history.

Mark Rivers, the Boise, Idaho, real estate developer managing the project, said The Commons will call attention to Medford's past.

"We're trying to weave together old and new," he said.

In September the city of Medford, the Medford Urban Renewal Agency and Lithia Motors signed a three-way agreement to rebuild roughly six downtown blocks, bordered by Central and Riverside avenues and Third and Sixth streets. Lithia will build its new 10-story headquarters in the development, formerly dubbed Middleford Commons, and is helping to coordinate the entire project.

Plans were submitted to the city May 18 for the demolition of eight buildings between Bartlett Street and Riverside Avenue and Fourth and Sixth streets. The buildings include the Greyhound bus station, the Superior Stamp and Sign building recently purchased by MURA and six buildings owned by Lithia. Purchase of the Greyhound property is still under negotiation, said Rivers.

The development plan includes salvaging architectural elements of the Littrell building to place in kiosks and ornamental grating around the "Littrell Lawn", the future park block that will spring up in place of the Littrell building to be demolished. Plans also include a 10-foot tall monument at the Greyhound bus terminal site that displays historic pictures saluting achievements in Medford's transportation history, said Rivers.

He said plans include purchasing the old JCPenney building from the Southern Oregon Historical Society and investing millions in its renovation.

"I think that building is an important keystone to The Commons and to Central Avenue," he said.

Despite demolition being about a year behind the original schedule, Rivers said he thinks they're making good time.

"It's just so complex," he said. "I actually think we're in pretty good shape."

He said he hopes the demolition proposal will be reviewed at the July 16 Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission public hearing and work will begin this year.

Meanwhile, Lithia plans to begin relocating the downtown car dealerships in August or September to its new complex under construction on Highway 62.

Downtown business owner Leena Lee looks forward to The Commons coming to fruition. Leena and Bob Lee own the building housing Grilla Bites and Yesterday's Blossoms and live on the second floor. She said she doesn't see the proposal as a threat to existing downtown businesses, but as a benefit because it will bring more people downtown. She said she also hopes the residential portion bears fruit.

"It's really important to have mixed-use where people will actually live downtown," she said.

Joyce Loyd, manager of the Heart of Medford Association, said potentially The Commons can fill some holes in what downtown currently offers.

"Personally, I'm excited about it (The Commons) because it's going to provide more of an open area for us to have events," she said.

When the city puts on something like the Winter Light Festival, she said, it has to block off streets because there isn't enough open space for a crowd. The proposed park blocks can offer such a space. Also, project plans once included a large venue to hold a convention, and she hopes that becomes a reality.

"The one thing we're really missing downtown is a convention center," she said.

Rivers developed the so-called "BoDo" (Boise Downtown) in Idaho, which also was a public/private partnership with the urban renewal agency there. BoDo takes up four city blocks downtown and includes parking, a hotel, retail space, a movie theater, a concert venue and restaurants. He said historic preservation also was a part of that project.

Rivers said celebrating the neighborhood's history will bring vitality to Medford's redevelopment project.

"We're creating a new beating heart for downtown," he said.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail

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