Demolishing a portal into Medford's past has proven more difficult than the City Council imagined.
A remnant of the former Greyhound building was scheduled for restoration as part of The Commons development downtown, but city officials decided the $50,000 cost was too high and pushed for demolition.
The council discovered Thursday that its own city code appears to make it difficult to raze the portal that was the former entrance to the Greyhound station.
"We're walking around in a parallel universe," Councilor Al Densmore said.
The Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission reviewed the request for demolition but concluded that something needed to be done to commemorate the Greyhound depot and other buildings that were removed from the site. The commission did say the portal's height could be reduced.
"They literally want the original structure with the legs reduced," Councilor Bob Strosser said, after reviewing a drawing of the portal with stubby legs.
The council wondered if the structure would survive having its legs shortened and worried that the option offered by the landmarks commission would cost as much as restoring the existing portal.
The portal, which is at the corner of Fifth and Bartlett streets near the new Lithia Motors headquarters, has been temporarily braced until a decision is made.
Councilor Dick Gordon said the city might be better off to proceed with the portal's restoration as originally planned rather than getting tangled up in a complex process.
The landmarks commission was asked to propose a way to commemorate eight older buildings that were demolished to make way for The Commons development. The portal idea was originally approved in 2007 and was intended to be a feature in one of the two park blocks in The Commons.
The Commons includes the Lithia building, the two park blocks and sites proposed for other retail, commercial and hotel space. A walkway through a parking structure at Fir Street and Riverside Avenue is under construction to better connect the development with the Main Street area.
Gordon, who expressed reservations about spending the money to save and beautify the portal, nevertheless made a motion to proceed with the original idea of restoring it. A majority of the council rejected that in favor of seeking a recommendation from the Medford Arts Commission to determine the best choice of action that would work with the landmarks commission recommendation.
Gordon cast the single no vote on sending the issue to the arts commission, saying he preferred to follow through with preserving the existing portal.
He said the city runs the risk of delaying the building of the second park block in The Commons until the issue of the portal is resolved.
Councilor Daniel Bunn said the landmarks commission is merely following city code established by the City Council in determining the portal — or a reasonable facsimile — should be saved.
"It's a bit of the taste of our own medicine," he said.
Councilor John Michaels said, "I still can't support putting out the money for this thing,"
However, he said, if the price tag for restoration came in lower, he might be persuaded.
"If it came in at $40,000, I would probably throw in the hat," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.