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MailTribune.com
  • Center of the Action

    Downtown Medford's building boom restores sense of cautious optimism
  • Anyone driving Interstate 5 can see downtown Medford's changing skyline: the new four-story Lithia headquarters with its glass walls, the three-story RCC/SOU Higher Education Center, the 83,000-square-foot library made of steel, brick and stone.
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    • Medford's changing downtown
      Lithia headquarters at 150 N. Bartlett St.
      • Two new parks on North Bartlett
      • A thoroughfare planned in Middleford garage to connect north and south Bartlett Street
      • A propos...
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      Medford's changing downtown
      Lithia headquarters at 150 N. Bartlett St.

      • Two new parks on North Bartlett
      • A thoroughfare planned in Middleford garage to connect north and south Bartlett Street
      • A proposed corporate office complex at West Main and South Fir streets that will be 50 percent larger than the Lithia building
      • A proposed Jackson County health center on West Eighth and Holly streets
      • Jackson County Housing Authority's proposed a 50-unit, low-income project at the corner of Sixth and Grape streets
      • The new RCC/SOU Higher Education Center at 101 S. Bartlett St.
      • The new downtown library at 205 S. Central Ave.
      • 35 restaurants




      Problems still facing the city center

      • Crime in Hawthorne Park
      • Cleaning up Bear Creek
      • Homelessness issues
      • The stalled Holly Theatre remodel
      • The stalled Jefferson Square project on Tenth Street that would serve as headquarters for Jefferson Public Radio
      • A downtown with too many empty offices
      • Too few attractions to bring people downtown at night and on weekends
      • Not enough parking for RCC/SOU students, merchants and future businesses
      • Improving the look of Main Street and slowing down traffic
      • Increasing the amount of residential units
  • Anyone driving Interstate 5 can see downtown Medford's changing skyline: the new four-story Lithia headquarters with its glass walls, the three-story RCC/SOU Higher Education Center, the 83,000-square-foot library made of steel, brick and stone.
    All built within the decade, they hail the start of what could be the most significant building boom in Medford since the turn of the last century.
    "Downtown Medford is kind of like what Bend was 10 years ago," said Mark DeBoer, Lithia Motors vice president of real estate.
    In the works are two new parks near Lithia's headquarters on Bartlett Street called The Commons, a new corporate office complex on West Main Street that'll be 50 percent larger than Lithia's headquarters, and a nearly $30 million Jackson County health center with a six-story parking garage at the old federal building on West Eighth Street.
    The new office buildings are expected to bring nearly 1,000 employees to downtown. The park blocks will serve as the new staging area for many of Medford's annual events. And the West Main office complex, housing Pacific Retirement Services, Procare Software and Rogue Disposal and Recycling, is expected to revive an economic dead zone now home to empty furniture stores.
    Just when Medford's downtown will cross that magic line to a major regional draw with a building boom such as Bend's is up for discussion.
    DeBoer said the downtown already has changed for the better, but it could take two to 20 years to reach a critical mass.
    Developing a solid employment base downtown will be the main catalyst for change, DeBoer predicted.
    He said businesses located in the Highway 62 corridor have expressed interest in moving downtown.
    "People just like being downtown," DeBoer said.
    Challenges for Medford leaders and businesses remain, however. Empty storefronts continue to plague downtown, particularly west of the railroad tracks.
    Lithia Motors has been unable to fill its retail spaces on the bottom floor, though DeBoer said he hopes to announce something later this year.
    The historic Sparta Building at the corner of Riverside Avenue and Main Street underwent a complete renovation, and though the second floor has been filling up, it still needs a tenant on the ground floor.
    Slowing down traffic and improving the look of Main Street are other suggestions DeBoer said he's made to city leaders.
    Parking has been an ongoing issue downtown. Lithia has purchased almost every lot in a city block near its headquarters that will satisfy its parking needs for the future, DeBoer said. Discussions are also continuing for the possible purchase of the Red Lion Hotel property, he said.
    Not everyone believes that corporate offices are the key to a successful downtown.
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