Urban renewal takes many forms

A two-hour public meeting to discuss what the Medford Urban Renewal Agency should do with $13.8 million meant to revitalize the city included suggestions to fund a community theater, build a new dog park, create a public pool, repair downtown alleys and parking garages and promote new businesses.

Thursday's meeting was a continuation of last week's public hearing called by the MURA board, which is made up of City Council members, to seek public ideas for how to revitalize Medford.

The council had not anticipated the number of speakers for last Thursday's meeting and had to cut them off after an hour to start the scheduled City Council meeting.

Ben Truwe, Medford historian and former City Council member, last week had asked the council to dedicate funds to moving the historic Luther Godwyn Porter House to Hawthorne Park to serve as a city museum.

Several in attendance Thursday supported Truwe's vision and asked the council to favor the museum.

Nancy Swan, a retired history teacher, said Medford needs its own museum to preserve its past and showcase its civic pride.

"We need to be proud of our history," Swan said. "We are a railroad town that survived."

Officials from the Medford Parks Foundation asked that a dog park be added to Hawthorne Park in addition to improving or replacing the pool.

Jerry MacLeod, chairman of the Medford Parks and Recreation Committee, said moving the existing dog park to Hawthorne and creating a year-round aquatics center would "be a real boon for the community."

Putting a 4-acre dog park in Hawthorne would increase the level of activity by providing positive social activities for both humans and canines, said David Pointer and Bob Cole.

Mark VonHolle, board president of the Sustainable Valley Technology Group, cited the area's blighted economy and discussed re-branding the region. Promoting his nonprofit group's business idea for a clean technology center/incubator to grow and attract clean technology businesses offering family-wage jobs, VonHolle asked MURA for $200,000 over a two-year period to cover operating expenses and requested $250,000 to help purchase an office building.

Richard Barney, director of the Heart of Medford Association, said his organization's original request for $200,000 over two years for promotional ventures might have created "sticker shock." But Barney urged MURA members to help Medford's downtown businesses promote themselves.

Dennis Nicomede, Paula Reeder and others spoke on behalf of the Randall Theatre Co. The "seedling" community theater has a goal of providing a place for "local talent" and giving "them a place to shine," said Nicomede.

Others called for MURA to finish the projects they started and start on those long promised. Kelsy Ausland sought repairs for the parking garage at the languishing Bella Vita project.

Repairing unsafe and heavily trafficked alleyways was another popular request.

Several spoke of the dangerous potholes and unsafe conditions in Merchants Alley, which runs behind multiple restaurants and banks between Central Avenue and Front Street.

"It's just a matter of time before someone gets hurt," said Lee Dorsey, owner of the Woolworth building.

Numerous speakers said they do not envy the board's responsibility in choosing which projects it will fund.

"Every single project deserves attention," said David Rowley.

MURA, created more than 20 years ago, will wind down over the next three years after spending or designating $62 million for projects to improve Medford. The decisions will be finalized on June 2 when MURA adopts its budget.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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