Merchant's Alley could help create an urban buzz for downtown Medford if the city funds major improvements to the pathway. Or it could just wind up with a new coat of asphalt.

Merchant's Alley could help create an urban buzz for downtown Medford if the city funds major improvements to the pathway. Or it could just wind up with a new coat of asphalt.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency board will discuss spending as much as $1 million — or as little as $25,000 — on the renovations to the downtown alleyway that runs behind businesses on Central Avenue and Front Street.

As it spends its final millions on urban renewal projects, the agency also will consider funding a development plan for Hawthorne Park and new lights on Main Street. The MURA session begins at 5:45 p.m. today in City Hall.

Improvements to Merchant's Alley would come as a great relief to some business owners, who say the alley is a popular path, but in poor shape.

"There are a lot of potholes and cracks," said Trish Welch, executive director at The Arc, Jackson County, an organization whose office and public thrift store on Central Avenue backs up into the alley.

Welch said on occasion The Arc uses its back entrance, something that can become problematic for guests with physical disabilities, said Welch.

"Taking care of this alleyway is one way of showing that downtown is a growing, vibrant place," Welch said. "I think it is apparent how well-used it is because of all the damage."

Other nearby business owners agree with Welch.

"It looks horribly, horribly bad for the downtown area," said Leesa Henselman, who said she drives and walks through the alley almost daily. "Not only is it an eyesore, but it's just dangerous."

Henselman, a real estate broker at Henselman Realty on Main Street, says she has heard about possible updates to the alley since she started working downtown 17 years ago.

"I have heard this promised over and over again," said Henselman, who said Merchant's Alley could be renovated to look more like Theater Alley near the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, or Middleford Alley, which runs parallel to Sixth and East Main Streets.

"Now we're being told they're just going to slap a paving job on there," said Henselman. "To me that doesn't show pride in your downtown core."

Henselman noted that there are frequent outdoor events in the alley behind Howiee's on Front Street, and said the alley's condition reflects poorly on the city as a whole.

"Grants Pass does such a great job," said Henselman. "Their alleys are warm and inviting for their downtown."

Medford public works director Cory Crebbin will present cost estimates for work on the alley during the study session, with options of $25,000 for basic asphalt, $400,000 for concrete or up to $1 million for concrete with underground utilities and other decorative amenities, such as lights and benches.

Crebbin said the Public Works Department is only providing the cost estimates and is not advocating for one option over another in the MURA project.

The proposals for Merchant's Alley would be funded out of $12.5 million remaining in MURA's budget, which is being doled out to various projects as the urban renewal agency's work winds down.

Medford Parks and Recreation Director Brian Sjothun will present a proposal today to develop a master plan for renovating Hawthorne Park. In previous meetings, the MURA board agreed to set aside $1 million to renovate the park, where the pool has been closed and residents have complained about issues with transients.

The MURA board also will consider two street light options:

Replacing street lights on West Main Street downtown, at a cost of $100,000 for converting 35 to 45 new lights to match new lights installed to the east on Main Street. Installing street lights on Edwards and Manzanita streets in the Liberty Park residential area just north of the downtown core.

MURA will review proposals during the study session, but won't make any decisions.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.