Customers of a popular shoe store in downtown Medford were surprised to hear that the business might have to move to make room for a new $1.8 million intersection at Fourth Street and Central Avenue.
"Why are they doing that?" asked Brandon Hoage, a 27-year-old father who has been shopping with his family at Shoes Right Here for six years.
The Medford City Council on Thursday will consider authorizing eminent domain proceedings against the property that houses Shoes Right Here. But both the city and the property owner say that would be the last option, and one they hope to avoid.
The city needs a 12.5-foot-wide strip of the tenth-of-an-acre property owned by the Elks Lodge to widen Fourth Street and install new traffic signals. Another 2.5-foot-wide swath of property to the east, at the corner of Fourth and Bartlett streets, owned by J.K. Investments, is also part of the proposed eminent domain action.
City officials and the Elks Lodge have been in discussions over whether it's possible to construct another building on the property so Shoes Right Here won't have to look for a new location.
The city often authorizes eminent domain actions on road projects, though it has rarely exercised the option.
Hoage said he hopes the city can work with the Elks Lodge and the shoe store to find a solution.
"As long as it doesn't put them out of business," he said.
Mike Conte, exalted ruler of the Elks Lodge, said he views the upcoming authorization for eminent domain as a procedural issue.
"That just gives them the option down the road," he said. "It is part of the procedure that is ODOT (Oregon Department of Transportation) mandated."
Conte said he expects negotiations with the city to be resolved long before any eminent domain proceedings would be undertaken.
"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 produces rental income for the Elks Lodge.
The city and the Elks Lodge will negotiate fair market value for the property, 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 county assessor calculates the 3,000-square-foot building built in 1930 is worth $131,400.
The Medford Urban Renewal Agency authorized spending $1.8 million on the intersection to improve turn lanes and signals.
At a recent MURA board meeting, Cory Crebbin, public works director, said it could take as long as 18 months to resolve right-of-way issues on the intersection.
MURA board members have raised the possibility of using the money allocated for the intersection on other needs — such as additional downtown parking — if the project takes too long to get started.
Crebbin said the city already has spent about $100,000 on the intersection project, counting staff time, for design and appraisals.
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.
Crebbin said the city has standardized its road-design process for all projects because it has been getting more and more dollars from the federal government, which requires authorization of eminent domain actions. However, no federal dollars will be involved in the intersection project, he said.
Crebbin said he doesn't recall any recent instance where the city actually followed through with an eminent domain action.
"It's always out there," he said. "Most people are willing to negotiate in good faith."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.