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Carnegie tenant-hopefuls submit their ideas

Only two organizations applied by Friday's deadline to use downtown's vacated Carnegie library.

The Southern Oregon Historical Society and Medford's Parks and Recreation Department both want to be the building's anchor tenant, leasing space for other community organizations and events.

Emphasizing that the 1912 building should be retained as a historic structure in public use, SOHS proposed a renovation into a cultural and community center in which it is the upstairs tenant, using 6,500 square feet. The first floor would be rented to community organizations ' and the upstairs fireplace area reserved for formal events.

None of the other groups that expressed initial interest in the Carnegie submitted proposals ' among them the Arts Council of Southern Oregon, the Multicultural Association, Centro Hispano and the League of Women Voters.

SOHS director John Enders said we all talked about our common interests and we wanted not to compete for the building.

— In its proposal, Medford's parks department proposes moving its administrative offices to the Carnegie, instead of the Santo Community Center as scheduled, to be closer to City Hall and more accessible for recreation classes, meetings and registrations, said Director Scott Archer.

The department would use about a fourth of the 15,000-square-foot building, leaving the rest as community space, which the department would manage.

In his proposal, Enders argued that SOHS would be a good steward because it has the experience in preserving historic places, managing properties and raising funds, all needed to carry out the Carnegie's transformation into the envisioned cultural-community complex.

Enders said the community groups were able to coalesce around his vision of a community center because everyone agreed they'd like to see a place where the community felt at home and all groups could hold events and gatherings ' and it could provide limited office space for small nonprofits that don't have a home.

The Historical Society would house its library and administration at the Carnegie, Enders said. The plan calls for vacating Ivy Street and joining Alba Park into Library Park for a grand central plaza.

The Carnegie would need an engineering study to determine the cost of seismic and asbestos retrofit work, which could run into the millions of dollars, requiring a major capital campaign that would be carried out by the Society, Enders wrote in his proposal.

If the building needs only minor upgrades, the city and Society could partner on that. Most of the money from the sale of the Society's present Central Avenue home will be used as an endowment to stabilize the organization as tax support is reduced, he said.

We hope to be involved in the renovation and restoration of the Carnegie building, Enders wrote. As a 55-year-old nonprofit that specializes in historic preservation and restoration, the ... Society is the most suitable entity to serve as a pass-through for ... restoration and renovation funds.

Community groups backed the Society's proposal, said director Lyn Godsey of the Arts Council of Southern Oregon, because its vision to include us and other community groups seemed to be exactly what (an ad hoc city committee) had for a vision for the building. It seemed a duplication of effort for other groups to apply. ...

SOHS has a strong board and membership base and has the means to take the lead for all the community groups, Godsey said, adding, they went out of their way to involve us (community groups) in their vision. The Parks and Rec didn't contact us and say here's what we want to do.

Posted city rules limit any Carnegie tenant to 3,000 square feet, considerably less than requested in both proposals. One community group indicated earlier that shared use with city offices would not fit the community center model proposed by the ad hoc committee formed to consider the Carnegie's future.

Deputy City Manager Jef Faw said a committee led by Glenda Owens, assistant to the city administrator, will evaluate and refer the proposals to the City Council for a decision May 20 or later. Given the unexpectedly low number of proposals, the city may reopen the application process.

John Darling is a free-lance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org