Message received loud and clear

City Council members say they will need more time to consider community sentiments before deciding how to dole out $12.5 million in Medford Urban Renewal Agency money. Good call.

When the council took over the urban renewal agency last year, dismissed the staff and installed itself as the agency board, we said it was the right move at the right time. MURA was entering the last three years of its existence and work remained to be done to revitalize the downtown core. What's more, the agency had neglected critical maintenance work on the two parking structures, leaving a substantial repair bill.

Having the council run MURA also brought the agency into line with nearly all its counterparts around the state. All but three of the 55 urban renewal districts in Oregon were run by city councils.

Recently, however, the downside of that arrangement has become clear. The city needs a new fire station to serve the downtown area, and a major intersection needs to be rebuilt. The council/MURA board looked at all those millions in leftover money and saw an easy way to complete needed projects.

Here's the problem: Fire stations and intersection realignments may be worthwhile projects, but they are not appropriate uses for urban renewal dollars, which should be used to make downtown more inviting, bolster the downtown business climate and continue revitalizing the district. Road projects should be paid for with road money; if the city needs a new fire station, the council should do what its counterpart in Ashland did — make the case to voters and ask them to approve bonds to pay for it.

The Medford council doesn't need us to deliver that message. City residents already did, loud and clear.

Downtown merchants and Medford residents who turned out to a study session Thursday made it clear they want urban renewal funds spent on urban renewal.

That doesn't make the council's job any easier; there are still more worthy projects than there is money. But several suggestions made during Thursday's meeting are good ones.

The Heart of Medford Association wants $100,000 for a marketing campaign to promote downtown. Jefferson Public Radio wants facade improvement money to help it restore the Holly Theatre into a performing arts center. Other speakers said money should go toward renovating Hawthorne Park. Another possibility not on the funding list is enhancements to Bear Creek — something that has been talked about for years but never undertaken.

Those are all in keeping with MURA's mission. The council should take as much time as it needs to seriously consider all the requests and suggestions, and then allocate the money in ways that will do the most to make downtown Medford something everyone will be proud of and want to spend time in.

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