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MailTribune.com
  • Will Medford's Evergreen finally grow?

    Talks involving Pacific Retirement Services and two local corporations could revitalize a downtown site that has long languished
  • Downtown Medford's evolution into an enclave of corporate offices may get a boost if plans move forward to build the headquarters for the Rogue Valley Manor's parent company.
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  • Downtown Medford's evolution into an enclave of corporate offices may get a boost if plans move forward to build the headquarters for the Rogue Valley Manor's parent company.
    Pacific Retirement Services Inc. wants to build up to 120,000 square feet of offices surrounding the Evergreen parking garage at the corner of Main and Fir streets.
    Brian McLemore, president and chief executive officer for PRS, said his company is working with two other local corporations. He estimated the cost would be in excess of $10 million.
    "I think it would be fantastic," McLemore said. "We're working with a couple of other partners who are interested in coming downtown."
    PRS proposes a four-story building around the $10.2 million Evergreen garage that was built in 2006 and was originally designed for a residential complex to be built on three sides.
    The PRS building, which would require an additional investment in urban renewal dollars, could instead provide space for about 300 employees from three corporate offices.
    PRS, which operates retirement communities in five states, has more than 1,700 employees and provides housing and services to more than 5,000 seniors.
    Just a few blocks away from the Evergreen site, Lithia Motors is building a 70,000-square-foot, four-story corporate headquarters. Lithia also has been courting other corporations looking at locating downtown.
    In addition, the county is converting the four-story, 80,000-square-foot post office building on West Eighth Street into a health services complex with an adjoining parking structure.
    McLemore said Lithia's investment in the downtown has created more enthusiasm for locating downtown.
    "There is a lot of interest in making Medford successful," McLemore said.
    Just as Lithia is doing, PRS wants to build a "green" building that takes advantage of the latest techniques for energy efficiency, he said.
    The Medford Urban Renewal Agency board of directors will hold a meeting at noon Thursday in City Hall, 411 W. Eighth St., to consider entering into an exclusive agreement to negotiate with PRS over the proposed building.
    As much as $2 million in MURA dollars have been designated as an incentive for a developer to build something around the Evergreen garage.
    In 2008, the Bella Vita, a proposed residential complex, failed in part because of disputes over prevailing wage issues. The state Bureau of Labor and Industries eventually ruled that the project was required to use the more expensive prevailing wages standard because of its connection to the publicly funded parking structure. With the economy also in a tailspin, the developer pulled out.
    McLemore said PRS hopes MURA will invest money in the project to help offset the financial hit from prevailing wage laws.
    He said one of the biggest attractions to building on the Evergreen lot, with 400 parking spaces in the existing parking structure, is the availability of sufficient parking for the three corporations.
    He said two additional local business also might want to locate within the new building.
    Depending on how many businesses move in, the PRS headquarters could be anywhere from 90,000 to 120,000 square feet, he said.
    The design would be similar to the downtown library and the RCC-SOU Higher Education Center.
    "Our thinking is a lot of brick, lots of glass and a little metal," he said.
    The ground floor of the building would house retail and other businesses that require walk-in traffic.
    McLemore said that if negotiations between the city and other corporations are successful, the new building could be completed by late next summer.
    "There's a lot left to do to get in the end zone," he said.
    Because the foundation and concrete pad for the building are already in place, construction could begin quickly once the negotiations are concluded, he said.
    McLemore said PRS owns a 3-acre site near the South Medford interchange that was previously viewed as the most likely site for the headquarters.
    PRS' current 16,000-square-foot headquarters is on Ellendale Drive, plus it has another 4,000 square feet of space leased elsewhere in Medford.
    "We've been growing out of the space in the current building," McLemore said.
    In addition, other community programs now housed at the Manor could be moved into the downtown headquarters, he said.
    PRS has no plans to put residential units in the new headquarters, McLemore said.
    Eventually, as the downtown evolves, McLemore said, there could come a time when PRS considers building residential units in the area.
    Bill Thorndike, who is on the PRS board of directors and is active in other community organizations, said discussions are in a very preliminary phase right now.
    "It's an exciting idea to see if it's a possibility," he said. "But it would require one of those famous private/public partnerships."
    Thorndike said it would take at least two or three partnerships with other businesses to make the project feasible.
    Dick Gordon, chairman of the MURA board, said MURA has a sizeable investment in the Evergreen, though the parking garage itself is underutilized.
    "I think partnering up with this group would be excellent," he said.
    With Lithia and the PRS headquarters, Medford would see a significant change in the dynamics in the downtown, Gordon said.
    "Wouldn't that be nice to have two anchors bookcasing the downtown area?" he said.
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.
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