Children laugh and play in a water feature at Burns Park in White City unaware that Jackson County invested $84 million to improve this community over the past 20 years.

Children laugh and play in a water feature at Burns Park in White City unaware that Jackson County invested $84 million to improve this community over the past 20 years.

"A lot of people started coming to this park after they fixed it up," said 19-year-old Maria Mota, as she watched her brothers and sisters cool off on a hot summer day.

Mota said she was born in White City and has lived on and off in California.

"I came and went, and I've seen a lot of changes for the better," she said.

In 1993, before she was born, the Jackson County Urban Renewal Agency was formed to improve White City.

On June 2, the county paid off all debt related to the urban renewal agency, and the Jackson County Commissioners ended the agency.

The county stopped collecting property taxes for the agency in 2009 because it had raised enough money to pay off debts and finish projects.

Mota, who is the oldest of eight children in her family, said the sidewalks and street lighting have improved safety in the community, particularly for school children.

The improvements haven't impressed everyone.

"No, because they could have had such a better park," said Wendy Cunningham, a 23-year-old mother.

However, she did think the sidewalks and street lighting were an improvement.

During the past 20 years, the county has installed extensive storm drain systems, installed a newer sewer system and paved over dirt roads or streets filled with potholes.

Many of the improvements benefitted the industrial side and others helped the residential side of White City.

One of the last projects finished was the $1.3 million White City Community Playground on Avenue C, near the White City library, which was built with $1.2 million in urban renewal dollars.

Other projects completed in the past few years include widening and improving 11th Street from Avenue G to Antelope Road at a cost of $2.8 million.

Another $1.6 million was invested to add storm drains and pave Avenue C, Fourth Street and Sixth Street.

A $1.4 million wetland park mitigation project restored vernal pools at the Jackson County Sports Park.

Joy Reich, who has been actively involved in the urban renewal projects, said White City was a mess before urban renewal came along.

She said the roads hadn't been adequately maintained since Camp White was created for the military during World War II.

"All the streets had potholes and puddles of water," Reich said.

Urban renewal provided the money to build a proper drainage system to deal with runoff.

"They really did a lot of stuff for White City," she said.

Reich said the only thing lacking is a bigger park near the library, where the town center has been planned.

"We have the plans, and we want to do it in stages," she said.

The urban renewal project has drawn criticism over the years, primarily due to the increase in property taxes.

Some Jackson County officials and White City residents had hoped the community would finally incorporate, but efforts to create an official "city" out of White City haven't gained enough traction. White City residents rejected incorporation in 2012.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.