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The Commons takes shape. On paper

MEDFORD — While there may be no high-rise springing up out of the ground yet, the nine-block downtown redevelopment project called The Commons is making headway behind the scenes.

Crews are replacing hundred-year-old water lines, the city is reviewing sidewalk designs and architects are ironing out details of Lithia's headquarters, the heart of the project.

Mark Rivers, the Boise, Idaho, real estate developer hired by Lithia, said The Commons is a couple of months behind but the plans are the same, the headquarters will still be 10 stories tall, and the three-block urban park is in the works.

"Organizing all the different parts is like organizing the family reunion," he said.

The Medford City Council Thursday approved a street plan that features pedestrian-friendly sidewalks wide enough for bistro seating and outdoor sales. Sections approved included Fifth Street from Bartlett Street to North Riverside Avenue; Bartlett from Third to Sixth streets; and Fourth Street from Central to Riverside avenues.

"The centerpiece of The Commons development is that Bartlett Street development," said City Planner Dan Moore.

Over the next several years, The Commons will fill the blocks roughly between Central and Riverside avenues and Third and Sixth streets. In addition to Lithia's headquarters and park blocks, the project will include residential buildings, retail stores and restaurants and a parking garage. Lithia, the city of Medford and the Medford Urban Renewal Agency formed a partnership to create The Commons.

A contractor currently is replacing $850,000 worth of the century-old water line along North Riverside Avenue. The work is taking place evenings because the job reduces traffic from three lanes to one.

Eric Iversen, Lithia's project manager, said the work should be complete in May. After that, demolition of the future park blocks can begin.

Rivers said the project was delayed several months while MURA worked out the relocation of the Greyhound bus station. Plans include moving the bus station from Bartlett Street to just south of the Rogue Valley Transportation District transfer station on Front Street this year. The project will be funded by MURA.

Demolition of the bus station along with seven other buildings was approved by the city in July.

"We're hoping to start construction on the park blocks this spring," said Rivers.

The headquarters building, which will have pedestrian-level storefronts, will be completed in 2010.

Rivers said Lithia's recent fourth-quarter loss was a short-term difficulty and shouldn't affect the project.

"I think Lithia has the long-term vision of this," he said.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mlanders@mailtribune.com.