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Field of unfulfilled dreams

Since eccentric millionaire Wes Howard died in 2003, a west Medford neighborhood has envisioned a park would soon replace acres of weeds.

Howard left an estate valued at $11 million, about $1 million of which was in cash, to Howard Memorial Sports Park, Inc. The nonprofit built some roads on the 58.39-acre property for a soccer field, and donated 5.5 acres to Logos Charter School, but various projects to develop a majority of the land have failed to materialize.

“It’s been frustrating waiting for something to happen here,” said Sallie Parrnelli, 82, who lives near the would-be park on the corner of Ross Lane and Rossanley Drive.

But a plan is afoot to create a miniature version of popular U.S. Cellular Community Park in south Medford. If the land becomes an official city park, it would be the fourth-largest in the city and would serve an area of west Medford that lacks parks.

Parrnelli said it has been a mystery to her and many neighbors why the park hasn’t been developed.

She said it was a surprise that Howard left the property for a park for kids, because he seemed to have disdain for children who ventured onto his land while he was alive. Howard lived in an 1890s-era, two-story Victorian farmhouse on the property without indoor plumbing.

Rich Rosenthal, Medford parks and recreation director, said the park is outside Medford city limits and has been under the control of the nonprofit's board of directors.

“It is not a city park,” he said. “The city was never involved until Dec. 19.”

He said the previous nonprofit's board of directors requested that the city council appoint new board members to help advance plans for the park.

The new members are councilors Kevin Stine and Mike Zarosinski, local lawyer Dan O’Connor, and Rosenthal. John Schleining remained as one of the founding board members.

One of the first orders of business for the new directors will be to investigate annexing the property into the city limits. Another possibility, which would open the doors to more funding, will be to determine whether the property can be placed under the control of the city. Rosenthal said the board will be seeking assistance from the Oregon Attorney General’s office to determine whether the property can be placed under the city instead of the nonprofit.

“The thought is the city of Medford is in the best position to fulfill the dying wishes of Wes Howard and develop it into a sports park and serve the children in this community,” he said.

The city typically offers a park within a half-mile of a given residential area. But this portion of west Medford doesn’t have any parks. If the Wes Howard Memorial Sports Park is built, it would serve 1,164 homes with 2,824 residences in that area.

Rosenthal said he estimates it will cost $15 million to develop the 48 acres into a park, according to a master plan that was previously approved by Jackson County. That estimate doesn’t include lighting and artificial turf that is found at the ballfields at U.S. Cellular Park, which has been a tourist draw for the region.

The park has many of the same benefits as U.S. Cellular, including relatively easy access to Interstate 5.

Apart from the soccer field and the Logos school, which is under construction, the property looks pretty much the way it did when Howard was alive.

“I didn’t know Wes Howard,” Rosenthal said. “While he may not have cared much for city employees, we will do everything we can to see his dying wishes come to fruition.”

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

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