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Central Point looks for urban renewal boost

CENTRAL POINT — City officials say a soon-to-be formed advisory committee will determine how an urban renewal district could spark economic development for the city.

With a record drop in development and minimal change on the horizon, city officials hope such a district can revive older structures and bring added parking to the downtown, build infrastructure for developable lands and improve transportation on the east side of the freeway to attract development.

Business owners have a wait-and-see attitude, saying they hope urban renewal can revive the downtown but voicing concerns about taxes and fees.

The city could use diverted tax dollars from the special district to invest in projects that would improve blighted areas of the city and bring new business into the town, said Chris Clayton, assistant city administrator.

"Our marching orders have been economic development," Clayton said.

"If we do it right, urban renewal can be a powerful tool to spark economic development."

Urban renewal districts specify an area of town in which property tax gains inside the district go to pay for improvements there rather than into government coffers. Such districts are established for a set period, typically 20 to 25 years.

For the first half-dozen years, planning would be the primary focus while money accumulated to eventually allow projects to be funded, said City Administrator Phil Messina.

Possible areas for the district include downtown and parts of the east side of the freeway, including a large commercial parcel at Hamrick Road and Pine Street once considered for a Walmart store.

Rogue Creamery marketing director Frances Plowman, a member of the city's downtown beautification committee, said urban renewal could simply be one part of a larger effort geared at turning the city into a destination with artisan businesses and a walkable downtown.

"We're definitely in the process of building a critical mass in our area of town, and the more people we can get into this small area the better," said Plowman.

Developer Tommy Malot said he hoped urban renewal would come with additional efforts by the city to make development affordable. He voiced frustration at cities around the region increasing development fees during an economic slump.

"If they want to try drawing more business and more development into the city, they could help with the cost of fees and make it affordable to develop," he said.

"When I built my first subdivision here in the '80s, so few building permits were being taken out I went through the county because there was no building department. Back then, this was the place to go because the prices were still reasonable. When fees are $3,000 and $5,000 and $10,000, that can make a huge difference in people wanting to come into the city. I haven't built a new house in 18 months.

"As far as urban renewal, I'd be interested to see what they would drum up and what they'd want to spend money to improve," he added. "Anything to help the downtown would be a positive."

Rick Samuelson Jr., who owns and runs Judy's Central Point Florist with his family, said he, too, would be interested in learning what urban renewal projects would be identified by the city.

"I really don't have much of an opinion at this point. The city needs to draw more businesses, but bringing in new businesses will mean something different for every resident and every business," Samuelson said.

"I think a lot of business owners feel like there have been decisions in the past where a lot of people didn't think their best interests were at heart. Central Point staying as small as it is probably isn't likely and wouldn't be good for the city, but I think there are ways to improve the city without creating more taxes and fees. If there's a way to find a balance, it could be a good idea."

Messina said city officials hope to find the balance that will best serve the city and fund needed improvements identified by the city and community members together.

"We think everyone is in agreement that our downtown could use some help," he said. "And when you can direct funds to pay for that help, it's at least a step in the right direction."

Clayton said the urban renewal advisory committee will be formed this month and meetings will begin by January.

For details on the committee, call City Hall at 541-664-3321

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.