Medford could use eminent domain to gain downtown property

The Medford City Council this Thursday might authorize a possible eminent domain action against a property that currently houses Shoes Right Here, a shoe store at the corner of Fourth Street and Central Avenue.

Part of the property is needed for a $1.8 million intersection makeover that would improve turning lanes and signals.

The city needs a 12.5-foot wide section of the one-tenth-of-an-acre property owned by the Elks Lodge to widen Fourth Street and to install new signals. Another 2.5-foot wide swath of property to the east, at the corner of Fourth and Bartlett, owned by J.K. Investments, is also part of the same proposed eminent domain action.

The city often authorizes a possible eminent domain action on road projects, though it has rarely exercised the option.

Cory Crebbin, public works director, doesn't recall any instance in recent memory where the city actually followed through with an eminent domain action.

He said the city has been negotiating with the property owner to resolve a number of issues including relocation of the existing tenant, the loss of the existing building and the purchase of the right of way.

"It is not an easy thing to figure out," he said.

Mike Conte, exalted ruler of the Elks Lodge, said he views the upcoming authorization for eminent domain as more of a procedural issue.

Conte said he expects that ongoing negotiations with the city will bring resolution to this issue long before any eminent domain proceedings are taken.

"The bottom line is that we are not going there at this time," he said.

Conte said he wants to do everything he can to retain Shoes Right Here as his tenant, which brings in rental income for the Elks Lodge.

City officials and the Elks Lodge have been in discussions to find a way to possibly build another building on the property so that Shoes Right Here won't have to look for a new location.

The city and the Elks Lodge will be negotiating fair market value for the property affected, which is close to The Commons, a $32 million downtown redevelopment project that features the new Lithia Motors headquarters. According to the Assessor's Office, the market value of the lot owned by the Elks Lodge is $263,390. Of that amount, the assessor calculates the 3,000-square-foot building built in 1930 is worth $131,400.

— Damian Mann

Read more in the Mail Tribune on Wednesday.

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