The most contentious doorway in Medford was saved from the wrecking ball Thursday after the City Council gritted its collective teeth and voted to restore a portion of the former Greyhound building.
The council voted 7-1 to spend an estimated $50,000 to spiff up the Greyhound building's entrance. The restored doorway will serve as a "portal" into the new downtown park surrounding the Lithia building.
Most of the councilors decided to support restoring the portal on the grounds that it would allow the rest of the downtown park projects to be completed without delay.
"It may be historic, but it's not beautiful," Mayor Gary Wheeler said.
The portal sits in a gravel lot near the Lithia building. It's surrounded by a chain-link fence and has had large chunks of its facade knocked off during the demolition of the rest of the building.
George Kramer, a historic preservation consultant, said the portal would show its true worth once it's fully restored.
"I think it will be an incredible addition to downtown Medford," Kramer said.
He envisions the portal serving as a scenic gateway into an area of the park where a stage is going to be built.
"Once you take off this white paint and see this amazing green tile underneath, you'll see this in a different way," Kramer said.
Lithia Motors Vice President Mark Deboer chimed in with his support of the portal, saying that he would be willing to chip in money to restore the structure.
The amount he was willing to match was not discussed at the meeting.
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 project includes the Lithia building, the two park blocks and sites proposed for other retail, commercial and hotel space.
The council balked at restoring the portal when the cost became clear, but the process of actually knocking down the doorway opened a maze of bureaucracy that clearly frustrated the council members who wanted to see it flattened and the Commons project move forward.
One option presented to city leaders was to demolish the portal and replace it with a "reasonable facsimile." However, this proved a sticking point because the city's bylaws concerning historic preservation are vague. A proposed replacement was estimated to cost $15,000, should it be agreed upon.
Kramer argued that the $15,000 replacement, which might only have been a bronze plaque, coupled with the amount of time the city spent trying to find a way to demolish the portal was not cost-effective.
"MURA already agreed in four previous public forums to keep (the portal)," Kramer said. "They've probably already spent thousands of dollars in staff time which would have been in addition to the $15,000 facsimile. They should have just gone with the original plan."
Councilor John Michaels was the only one to vote against preserving the portal. He argued that it was not a good use of taxpayer money.
Councilor Dan Bunn noted that the process had dragged on and that he understood the hesitation expressed by the councilors.
"It's time for us to make a decision," he said.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.