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Evergreen project may have new life

A failed downtown revitalization project has languished too long for some Medford officials, and they have stepped up efforts to get something built on the vacant property formerly known as Bella Vita.

The city has received several inquiries from developers who want to create a residential development on Fir Street between Main and Eighth streets. In the next two weeks, the city will sift through the applicants to see if any are qualified to build a residential development.

The site, also known as the Evergreen Mixed Use Project, has been part of the Medford Urban Renewal Agency's revitalization goals for downtown Medford for years. The block formerly was occupied by the Winetrout building, which later became Crater Lake Motors and eventually People's Furniture. The building was demolished in 2000.

City Councilman Bob Strosser said the city wants to look at every opportunity to make something work on the property.

"The bottom line is, both MURA and the city are open to looking at different viewpoints," he said. "We need to get more cards on the table to help that project along."

The Bella Vita project initially was planned to include condominiums, specialty shops and high-end offices, wrapped around MURA's parking garage on the east side of the block. Only the parking garage has been built.

Bella Vita was estimated to cost $25 million when it was unveiled in 2005. The buildings were planned to include about 64 residential units, 55,000 square feet of office space and 19,000 square feet of commercial space. Occupancy originally was planned for the first condominiums in September 2006.

The project began to fall apart after a complaint was filed with the Bureau of Labor and Industries that asserted all work should be paid at government-set prevailing wages. Delays pushed the project directly into the path of the downturn in residential housing and the recession.

Strosser said MURA has wanted to get more of a commercial and residential mix in the building, but it is a development idea that some officials don't think will work.

He said he couldn't fault MURA for failing to find a suitable developer for the project in these tough economic times.

"MURA is struggling as hard as it can to bring these things together under conditions that none of us foresaw," he said.

Greg Yechout,

(note: this name has been corrected) chairman of MURA's board of directors, said the city had received several inquiries about the Evergreen project, so it took the lead in selecting a qualified candidate.

"It's still a partnership with the city," he said.

He said MURA wants to devote its attention to other revitalization projects such as the Commons, the project to build park blocks, commercial space and offices for Lithia Motors on the north side of downtown.

If a developer comes forward with a serious proposal for the Evergreen site, he expects MURA to play an active role in its planning and development.

"We will become more attuned to it if we have a viable candidate," said Yechout.

Sally Densmore, chairwoman of MURA's budget committee, said the developers decided to bypass MURA because it continued to insist on a development that would have both commercial and residential features.

"They were asking about things that MURA wouldn't consider," she said.

Densmore said the developers appear to be more interested in just having a residential development on the property.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.