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MailTribune.com
  • Phoenix urban renewal director to resign in July

    Marla Cates says she needs to spend more time on Talent efforts
  • PHOENIX — Urban Renewal Agency director Marla Cates will end her almost five-year tenure with the city effective July 1.
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  • PHOENIX — Urban Renewal Agency director Marla Cates will end her almost five-year tenure with the city effective July 1.
    The PURA board and City Council members in recent months have been divided over whether the two entities should merge, but Cates said her decision to resign was prompted more by time constraints than the recent controversy.
    Cates has directed urban renewal efforts in neighboring Talent for more than a dozen years. She said managing both agencies and facing a growing number of future projects had become increasingly difficult to juggle.
    "The intergovernmental agreement between Talent and Phoenix was that Talent would always have precedence, and that hasn't happened over this last year, so I'm really feeling like I need to concentrate on Talent right now," Cates said.
    Cates said a third phase to reconstruct West Valley View and a civic center project would demand more of her time in Talent. Meanwhile, Phoenix plans to create a market square and redesign the two one-way roads in the center of town.
    "I've not been able to spend the time I need to in Talent and this is also a good time for Phoenix to start looking for someone full-time," she said, emphasizing that she was leaving Phoenix with a capable board and in good shape to continue the work she started.
    "I've done the things I was asked to do and set up the agency in such a way that it would function like Talent's, because Talent has been so successful. The city is in a good position to continue the work we've started, and I have no doubt they will be OK."
    Historian George Kramer called Cates' resignation a sore loss for Phoenix. Kramer, who helped the city inventory its historic buildings, said he had worked with Cates for two decades and that the city would be hard-pressed to fill her shoes.
    "Marla has proven herself a person of incomparable skill in guiding urban renewal in towns the size of Talent and Phoenix, and it is a shame Phoenix won't be able to benefit from her in the future," Kramer said. "There are a lot of really great things happening in Phoenix and she's put a lot of really great things in motion. Replacing her will not be easy.
    "This is not a positive step for a city that is direly in need of economic redevelopment and all of the kinds of things Marla was promoting."
    Mayor Jeff Bellah acknowledged that people might think Cates' resignation was linked to a council decision earlier this year to expand the urban renewal board with the entire City Council, a decision that was later reversed when two more council liaisons were added. But Bellah said things seemed to be running smoothly now.
    "I do agree that Phoenix probably needs a full-time person and if she thinks she's going to be crunched for time, now is probably a good time to find one," he said. "We wish Marla well and we will be lucky to find someone anywhere near as good as Marla."
    Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency vice-chairman Chris Henry, who resigned because of the combined-board-council decision but returned after the reversal, said board members were disheartened to learn of Cates' resignation.
    "Marla is easily one of the top urban renewal directors in the state of Oregon and for the city to continually push and push and push is so disheartening," Henry said.
    "We were established to do a job and we were doing it very well. I do feel like she was forced to spend an exorbitant amount of time and energy defending urban renewal and that was on top of still doing the job that they entrusted her to do. It doesn't make sense to have to fight to do what you were asked to do."
    Henry said the urban renewal board was committed to continuing the work Cates started and ensuring a seamless transition while a replacement director is sought.
    "Honestly, I foresee several board members resigning, despite what Council seems to think. We have all battled this thing for too long, and it's exhausting," Henry said.
    "We all really believe in the work we have done here and what we do know is that we are very supportive of Marla and whatever she needs us to do."
    Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.
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