City life gets a boost

The proposed housing development across from the Medford library is good news for downtown Medford, and another sign that momentum is building in the effort to revitalize the city's core.

Code-named "Skybox," the proposal involves 25 one- and two-bedroom units built above the parking lot at 10th Street and Central Avenue. The Medford Urban Renewal Agency board gave its staff the go-ahead to develop an agreement that could see the complex completed by 2015.

The parking lot would be expanded by 10 spaces, and each of the 25 housing units would be assigned one space, for a net loss of 15. More on that later; for now, the board's enthusiasm for the concept is justified.

MURA can point to several successes in its years of investing in downtown: Streetscape upgrades to sidewalks and lighting, many spruced-up facades on downtown businesses, parking structures to accommodate more vehicles and the centerpiece — the park blocks of The Commons, fronting Lithia's new headquarters building. But despite repeated plans to include it, a key component has been missing from the renewal effort: new residential units.

The long-dormant project just revived as One West Main originally was conceived as a combination of commercial and residential space. Now it is finally being finished, but only as an office building.

The Commons, as originally planned, was to include residential development along with retail spaces surrounding the park blocks. When the Great Recession intervened and the project was first put on hold and then scaled down, the residential component was one of the casualties.

We said long ago, and still believe, that downtown Medford will not see a real renaissance until people start living there in substantial numbers. A downtown that bustles only during business hours falls short of what an urban center can be.

When attractive residential units prompt people to move downtown, so will businesses that cater to them, such as grocery stores, clothing stores, coffee shops and restaurants. Downtown after dark won't be limited to just the bar scene.

Some may question the wisdom of approving residential development that will mean a net loss of parking spaces, but that is a minor concern at this point. Plans already are in the works to add even more parking downtown — on the former Dollar car lot property and on a portion of the Red Lion property. In any case, there is not a serious shortage of parking now, and at some point, downtown redevelopment can't be all about parking. Build new projects that attract people, and the parking will follow. A downtown busy enough to fill two parking structures and multiple surface lots is a good thing to have.

Finally, a residential project that includes just 25 units won't jump-start downtown all by itself, but it's a great step in the right direction.

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