Park first, parking second

We have two words for the Medford Urban Renewal Agency board, also known as the Medford City Council: Hawthorne Park.

The MURA board, which is made up of the members of the City Council, is deciding how to spend the last few dollars left in the renewal agency's coffers as MURA nears the end of its 25-year effort to revitalize downtown Medford. Because of some last-minute decisions to purchase more property for parking, there is less money remaining than previously planned — about $700,000 less.

It's difficult to know the precise figure because some projects have yet to go to bid, and all the details of others are not yet decided. But improvements to Hawthorne Park have been high on the agency's priority list, and should remain at the top.

Parking is important — especially at the Dollar GMC property, where 100 spaces are planned for students at the Rogue Community College/Southern Oregon University Higher Education Center. Now that the 1 West Main office project is under construction, the spaces in the Evergreen Parking Structure will be taken up by tenants of that building.

Also on the to-do list are renovating the intersection of Fourth Street and Central Avenue to add left-turn lanes and replace the aging traffic lights, and building a parking lot next to the Inn at the Commons, which MURA purchased as part of the deal to keep the former Red Lion Inn operating.

But MURA has spent a tremendous amount of money on parking already — more than half of the $70 million it has invested overall. Constructing a second new lot should take a back seat to fixing the park.

The intersection at Fourth and Central certainly needs an upgrade now that the park blocks are complete. But traffic lights and turn lanes are road projects. Hawthorne Park, on the other hand, is the very essence of urban renewal.

The largest open space in the city's core has become run-down and in need of a face lift, especially since Hawthorne Pool was demolished along with the park's aging restrooms. The proposed plan calls for new restrooms, walkways, lighting, a spray pad for children and two dog parks for large and small canines. Creek bank renovations also are in the plans along the east bank bordering the park.

Parks and Recreation Department officials hope to refine the plans to keep the costs as low as possible. That makes sense, especially when it comes to the dog parks, which should require little beyond some fencing, benches and waste receptacles.

Hawthorne Park has languished long enough. On the list of priorities, sprucing up the park should come before rebuilding an intersection and paving yet another parking lot.

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