Code named "Skybox," an elevated, 25-unit residential complex proposed above a parking lot on Central Avenue received an enthusiastic response from the Medford Urban Renewal Agency Thursday.
"This is a very fine project," board member Al Densmore said during his final MURA meeting. He is stepping down from the City Council and MURA board on Aug. 2.
MURA approved allowing its staff to develop an agreement that could allow construction of the elevated complex with one- and two-bedroom units by the summer 2014, with completion in 2015.
The cost of the project is estimated to be in excess of $2 million, funded by private dollars.
The developer of the project, Allan Sandler, has created numerous projects in Ashland, including the A Street Market and various buildings in the vicinity of The Plaza.
His Medford proposal would be built above an existing parking lot at the northwest corner of Central Avenue and 10th Street, across from the Medford library branch. While it would mostly be a one-story structure, that story would sit above the parking lot, the majority of which would not be enclosed by walls.
Mark McKechnie, owner of Oregon Architecture in Medford, said the city would not be asked to pay any portion of the development costs for the project that has been tentatively dubbed Skybox.
But the project does depend on the city, through its urban renewal agency, to provide the site essentially free of cost. As part of the proposed agreement, the developer would pay $1 for the "air rights" above the parking lot.
The units, which would be sold or rented at market rates, would face the Medford library to the east or toward the city's transit center to the west.
A central open-air courtyard would traverse the center of the complex, from north to south. The courtyard would vary in width from 22 to 35 feet.
Currently the parking lot has 75 spaces; the developer would increase that amount to 85 by removing planters.
Under the proposal, the agreement would allow one parking space for each unit, resulting in a net loss of 15 spaces.
On the ground floor, stairs, a lobby, an elevator and a trash receptacle area would be built on the existing parking lot.
The second story, which would be 12 feet above the parking lot, would contain the courtyard and the residential units.
McKechnie said the parking lot would be out of commission for three months once construction begins. To have the least impact on students from nearby Rogue Community College, the work would take place during the summer.
McKechnie said the parking lot would be mostly left intact, requiring only repaving certain areas and would be accessible to the public almost immediately after the work is completed.
After finishing the ground floor construction, work on the upper floor could continue and the parking lot could be used by the public.
McKechnie said his firm and the developer are still working on the design of the project but need to receive an agreement from the city before everything can be finalized.
"At this point, it's just broad strokes," he said.
Initially, McKechnie said, the developer was leaning toward rental units in the complex, but now sees more interest in selling the units.
He said the project could spur other residential projects in the downtown, possibly even leading to the conversion of vacant second floor spaces in existing downtown buildings
The type of agreement that the city and the developer would enter into would be similar to the One West Main project on Main Street. On that project, MURA owns the parking garage and land, but the developers own the office building, which is currently under construction.
MURA board members generally reacted favorably to the project.
Board member Chris Corcoran said he wanted to make sure the city and developer discussed the project with RCC to make sure that students' concerns were addressed.
Otherwise, Corcoran said, he supported the project.
Board member John Michaels concurred. "I like what I see," he said.
Other board members said this was the kind of project that the city has long hoped for because it would bring residences into the downtown.
Mayor Gary Wheeler, who is also a board member, said that with MURA winding down, the project would be a welcome addition to the downtown.
"To me this is a perfect fit into an urban environment," he said. "It's a nice capstone project."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.