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MailTribune.com
  • Medford official stresses need for welcome center

    Proposed ODOT project is vital for tourism, city manager tells local business leaders
  • Medford City Manager Eric Swanson on Monday asked the business community to push for the development of a welcome center and rest area planned near Interstate 5 south of Ashland.
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  • Medford City Manager Eric Swanson on Monday asked the business community to push for the development of a welcome center and rest area planned near Interstate 5 south of Ashland.
    Swanson and other city officials gave a State of the City address at the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County Forum, held at the Rogue Valley Country Club.
    The welcome center has been on the Oregon Department of Transportation's drawing board for years — much too long for the leadership at Medford City Hall. When Travel Oregon CEO Todd Davidson appeared before the chamber in May, City Councilman Chris Corcoran expressed frustration over the long, slow process during the question-and-answer period afterward.
    Swanson delicately and succinctly made his point while sharing the podium with Corcoran, president of the Medford Urban Renewal Agency board, and Mayor Gary Wheeler.
    Swanson said Medford has done its part in helping ODOT pay for the $12 million center, which will replace the Siskiyou Summit welcome center that closed down 18 years ago.
    Medford agreed to loan ODOT the remaining $1.5 million it needed, to be paid back over three years.
    The welcome center, which will include a rest stop with bathrooms and landscaping, will be built at milepost 12.5, just south of Crowson Road and before northbound motorists reach exit 14, the south Ashland interchange. Neighbors have opposed the center, fearing it will attract transients and criminal activity.
    "The ODOT welcome center is something we need to push hard and we need to push as a private/public group to make sure this happens," Swanson said.
    "Once this gets built, it will drive a lot of increased tourism."
    Swanson reported that property taxes provided $63.6 million of the city's $281.3 million income. He said the city employs 431 full-time employees, and spends $106.5 million on personnel. During the summer, the number of employees swells to 621.
    Swanson said revisiting a 2004 study designed to help streamline development led to promoting building director Chris Reising into a new role of deputy city manager for development services.
    "The study was done to try to figure out ways we can be more efficient, more user-friendly when it comes to our land-use process," he said. "How we implement that and how we deal with developers. How can we be more development-friendly, how can we use our processes to increase the amount of activity in the building arena, because it drives a lot of jobs in our economy here in Medford."
    Some of the elements were implemented before the ideas were mothballed because of the Great Recession, he said.
    "Now that we're seeing activity pick up again, we're putting it back on the front burner," Swanson said.
    Mayor Wheeler said the city continues to study cooperative efforts with Jackson County fire districts 2 and 3.
    "We want to be able to perform as least as well as we performed at less or no greater costs, or maybe with a cost savings, and do better services," Wheeler said. "One way or another, we want to improve what we deliver as far as services go."
    Wheeler said the city has developed a plan to communicate with citizens better with more information delivered on the city's website.
    The city is preparing for changes in marijuana laws.
    "How do we manage that and also do we do some taxing of recreational and medical marijuana," he said. "We have not got a lot of direction from the state."
    Corcoran did a pictorial review of the improvements in which MURA played a role over the past 26 years, including the beginnings of Hawthorne Park's restructuring.
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.
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