Liberty Park gets its day in the sun

The Liberty Park neighborhood north of downtown Medford heralded a long-sought victory Thursday night.

A unanimous City Council, acting as the Medford Urban Renewal Agency Board, approved spending 90 percent of $19,926,046 on this poor, crime-ridden neighborhood, roughly bounded by Biddle Road, Central Avenue, McAndrews Road and Central Avenue.

"Government does work, and I appreciate it," said Bob Shand, president of the Liberty Park Neighborhood Association.

The MURA Board approved spending the bulk of the money, or $17,933,441.40, on Liberty Park and up to 10 percent on seismic retrofit projects in the downtown.

Based on input from local residents, the money will be spent to improve streets and sewer connections, along with more low-income housing and assistance with upgrading existing housing.

Despite the unanimous vote, many councilors acknowledged the project list wasn't specific enough.

"We are sitting at a pretty vague point, and this will catch up to us pretty fast," Councilor Mike Zarosinski said.

He said the MURA Board will have to remain focused on the projects in the years ahead. The MURA Board is also looking at hiring an executive director to help manage and shepherd projects along.

Councilor Kevin Stine said, "This is kind of like the bones of everything. This is going to change quite a bit as real projects are proposed."

He said the city must continue to go back to the neighborhood to make sure residents approve of the projects.

Residents want improvements on Manzanita and Edwards to make the neighborhood safer, particularly for children who need sidewalks and traffic calming devices.

Many of the houses in the neighborhood have failing sewer lines, and that is a project high on the list for many residents.

Councilor Dick Gordon has been pushing for years to get more funding into Liberty Park since it was largely ignored by previous urban renewal efforts that began in 1988.

"I'm really happy we're moving ahead," he said, while warning, "There will be a lot of tugs from future boards for pet projects."

Gordon said he liked the "pay-as-you-go" method for this urban renewal effort as opposed to securing bonds that would be paid off over time. The money collected for urban renewal comes by diverting a portion of the normal increase in property taxes to pay for special projects.

Mayor Gary Wheeler said he understood the passion for investing in Liberty Park, but he thought councilors should have looked at other worthwhile projects, including improving the area along Bear Creek.

Councilor Kay Brooks, who lives in the Liberty Park neighborhood, said this area of Medford is really just an extension of the downtown area, which she said is just a short walk away.

With the infusion of money, she said it should encourage development and go a long way toward dealing with a community rife with crime.

"It's not all about the money you can get out of it — it's also about livability," she said.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

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