'State of the city': Medford projects moving ahead

A year into his role as Medford city manager, Eric Swanson has seen one major downtown renewal objective near completion and construction begun on a second, while other major projects move toward becoming reality.

Swanson, Mayor Gary Wheeler and City Council President Al Densmore addressed The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County Monday in a "state of the city" overview at Rogue Valley Country Club.

The city manager cited as positive elements a collaboration with Lithia Motors on The Commons project, and more recently on the 130,000-square-foot One West Main building, which will house Pacific Retirement Services, Rogue Disposal and Recycling and Procare Software and its 300 employees.

"We knew the players and the incentives, and it was a great private/public partnership," Swanson said.

Swanson stressed that while the city put $14.1 million into developing The Commons and the adjacent Pear Blossom Park, that money didn't go toward building Lithia Motors' four-story headquarters.

"Lithia paid for that building," Swanson said. "What the city did was put in the infrastructure around it and will continue to do that. ... We saw this as an opportunity. It's the devil we know, we're not holding out money and incentives to somebody from outside our community which a lot of cities do successfully, and unsuccessfully.

"When you look at the 65,000-square-foot facility they built and the 150 employees working there, you begin to see where a little bit of that positivity helped."

Another development coming to fruition in the past year, was Northgate Centre Marketplace, west of Rogue Valley Mall, which holds Trader Joe's and REI, among other businesses. He said the outside investment into the region was an indication that Medford is a good place to do business.

"You don't see that happening in a lot of communities," he said.

Swanson also addressed the city's purchase of a portion of the current Red Lion Hotel property, in which the city plans to acquire about 3.3 acres of the hotel property for $1.6 million so it can add parking space. Although the eventual outcome remains unknown, he said he anticipates a positive outcome. Executives with Lithia Motors are behind the deal and plan to acquire the remainder of the property, which is across from their headquarters building on Riverside Avenue. There has been criticism that the city may be paying too much for its portion of the site.

"We don't know how this script is going to end," Swanson said. "Obviously, you make decisions based on the best information you have in front of you at the time. We were working with private partners with a lot of skin in the game."

He noted the property would provide the city with additional parking, connections to Hawthorne Park, and access to the Bear Creek trail system.

"If we didn't get involved, there could be a lot different results," he said. "There's been a decline in investment on some of that property and it would be a shame if that thing were to fall into disrepair and become something that we wouldn't be proud to show folks that visit us."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

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