Interest from Pacific Retirement Services in building office space around the Evergreen parking structure could be just the catalyst downtown Medford needs to pull out of the doldrums as the economy rebounds.

Interest from Pacific Retirement Services in building office space around the Evergreen parking structure could be just the catalyst downtown Medford needs to pull out of the doldrums as the economy rebounds.

The combination of Lithia's new corporate headquarters now taking shape along Riverside Avenue and up to 120,000 square feet of office space surrounding the parking garage at Main and Fir streets would add vitality to a downtown that desperately needs it. Add to that the consolidation of state and county human services agencies in the 80,000-square-foot former federal building at Eighth and Ivy streets, and the potential becomes evident.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency built the Evergreen parking structure in 2006. Originally, the intent was to build residential units around it, with retail space on the street level. Although the Bella Vita residential complex was a private endeavor, the parking garage was built within public funds. Public projects by law must pay workers at "prevailing wage" rates, a more expensive standard than private projects. In 2008, just when the housing market had nose-dived, the state Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled the project must pay prevailing wages, and the developer pulled out.

When Bella Vita was first proposed, it appeared that it might boost the economy of the downtown core by making it a place people could live as well as shop. Now, the momentum has shifted to office space rather than residential development.

Three major office projects consolidating workers downtown at about the same time could provide the critical mass to increase demand for the restaurants and clothing and other specialty retailers already situated in the central business district, plus encourage new investment to cater to the new foot traffic.

One big advantage of the Evergreen site is that it's beyond even "shovel-ready" because the foundation and concrete slab already are in place. Once the details are hammered out, construction could begin at once.

The Commons — the park blocks project with the Lithia building as its centerpiece — has come in for criticism by those who see public-private partnerships as a misuse of tax dollars. But PRS president and CEO Brian McLemore says Lithia's investment has created an enthusiasm for downtown Medford that led his company to consider joining in.

That's a good omen in our book.