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Central Point starts push for urban renewal

CENTRAL POINT — With property values stagnant or dropping in the downtown area, city officials hope a new urban-renewal effort will fund badly needed improvements, attract new businesses and improve aesthetics for the city core.

City Council members will review an urban-renewal plan this month that was recently approved by the Planning Commission.

Assistant City Administrator Chris Clayton said the plan addresses blighted areas and assesses how to leverage improvements to encourage commerce.

"Cities and other entities do urban renewal for various reasons," he said. "Sometimes it's aesthetics or safety. Ours is more driven by economic development and helping to support business owners in Central Point."

The city's proposed plan identifies 15 projects that are considered key to the revitalization of the Urban Renewal Area.

The planned projects have an estimated cost of more than $67 million, of which $43 million would be funded by urban-renewal dollars.

Clayton said the improvements would benefit the city and private businesses in both the short and long term.

Many of the city's downtown structures were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Assessed property values, according to a handful of studies used in the urban-renewal plan, increased in the downtown by 1.6 percent over the past five years compared to the city average of 4.6 percent. Halfway into the 2011-12 fiscal year, assessed values have declined.

Under urban renewal, assessed property values are gauged at the start, and increases that occur over the 25-year life of urban renewal are diverted for improvement projects, which, over the long term, should boost assessed values.

Entities that would experience a freeze on tax increases include the city, Jackson County, Jackson County Education Service District, Jackson County Vector Control, Jackson County Soil Conservation, Rogue Valley Transit District, Rogue Community College, Fire District No. 3 and Central Point School District 6.

City officials say an estimated $321 million in assessed value will be "released" by fiscal year 2037-2038. Within two years, affected taxing districts would realize a "break even" point.

Possible areas for the district include downtown and parts of the east side of Interstate 5, including a large commercial parcel at Hamrick Road and Pine Street once considered for a Walmart store.

The list of projects includes improvements to downtown, East Pine Street (east of Tenth) and along the Highway 99 corridor; intersection signalization and off-street parking; underground relocation for existing pole-mounted utilities; extensions to Gebhard and Peninger roads; upgrading Freeman Road, renovating Pfaff Park and building a community center.

Councilman Bruce Dingler said that with development presently stalled by the economy, city staff could focus on urban renewal, which would put the city in a better position when the economy begins to recover.

"I think probably it's the right time to do it, and it would benefit the downtown area and maybe promote some economic growth," Dingler said.

"This recession thing can't last forever. Maybe if we get in on the ground floor, assessed value is going to go up, so maybe we can generate some business for the city."

City Council, as part of the city's Development Commission, will review the proposed urban-renewal plan at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, prior to a 7 p.m. City Council meeting. Public input is being sought for the plan.

The plan can be viewed online at www.centralpointoregon.gov/dynamic.aspx?id=2472

Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com