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The Commons: Lithia Motors' vision for downtown

After three years of getting its ducks in a row, Lithia Motors is unveiling plans for its 10-story headquarters building and newly renamed urban redevelopment project: The Commons.

Formerly dubbed Middleford Commons, The Commons has a different layout than originally proposed because one group of property owners, the Jennings family, wanted a higher price than what the Medford Urban Renewal Agency was offering.

"We've reconfigured our entire plan to avoid all the Jennings properties," said Mark Rivers, the Boise, Idaho, project developer hired by Lithia.

Over the next three to four years, the blocks roughly between Central and Riverside avenues and Third and Sixth streets will be transformed into Lithia's corporate headquarters, residential buildings, retail stores and restaurants, and a parking garage.

The Commons, Medford's largest public/private project, also includes three blocks of urban park space with a brew pub at the north end.

"Our development project is built basically to ring the park blocks," said Rivers.

A Power Point presentation on The Commons project will be presented noon Monday in the City Hall council chambers. The presentation will be to the City Council, the Medford Urban Renewal Agency, the Planning Commission, the Site Plan and Architectural Commission, the Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Rivers said after Monday's meeting Lithia will formally start the process of submitting plans; the meeting includes the commissions that will be reviewing pieces of the plan in future public hearings.

Rivers said one of the three park blocks, the southernmost, will probably be the first thing to be built, hopefully beginning this summer.

Lithia, which is helping the city and MURA orchestrate the entire urban redevelopment project, plans to have its 140,000-square-foot, 10-story headquarters building completed in 2009, he said. The architectural designs for the building are not yet complete.

While most of the property within the project area is owned by Lithia, there are some business property owners with whom MURA has been negotiating for six months: The Greyhound bus station and garage, Sam Jennings Co., and Superior Stamp and Sign. The agency is working on plans to relocate the Greyhound bus station, including the possibility of building a multi-use station with the Rogue Valley Transportation District. The Greyhound property and the Superior Stamp and Sign property remain under negotiations, though Rivers said he feels optimistic about an agreement being reached.

Don Denman, the Medford attorney representing the Jennings family, said he didn't know of any different plans the family had other than keeping the Sam Jennings Co. where it is. He said the family also owns some property that is leased to Lithia, which it is not selling to MURA.

"We just couldn't reach an agreement on price," he said, declining to reveal either the price offered by MURA or the price the family would have sold for.

Rivers said eliminating the properties from the project design is not a problem. The original plan put the new parking garage at the corner of Third Street and Riverside Avenue, and the corporate headquarters buildings at Fourth Street and Riverside Avenue, on the Jennings property. The new design moved the parking structure and Lithia buildings west half a block so they're on Lithia-owned property.

Under the agreement, Lithia will take responsibility for building the park space and the garage in addition to two headquarters buildings. After constructing three blocks of park space along Bartlett Street, Lithia will transfer ownership to the city, with the Parks and Recreation Department providing maintenance.

The city's preliminary estimates once put the total project cost at $169 million, including contributions from MURA, the city, state grants and Lithia. Rivers said he didn't have new cost estimates to release, just that it would exceed $100 million. MURA is contributing up to $14.1 million, which will go toward property acquisition and purchasing spaces in the parking structure.

The project also calls for modifying the existing parking structure along Sixth Street to create an open walkway between downtown and the project area.

Jackie Rodgers, MURA director, said the parking structure remodel is projected for fiscal year 2009-10. The design of the remodel has not been determined, she said.

Lithia has been planning for several years to relocate its dealerships to 120 acres on Highway 62 near the Medford airport, vacating the six-block chunk of downtown. Since fall 2004, MURA and others have been formulating plans for an urban redevelopment project to be located where Lithia automobile dealerships are now, so the city won't be left with vacant car lots.

Construction has begun on the new location, and Lithia plans to relocate its Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep dealership to the new site this summer. In no particular order, over the next four years, Lithia's BMW, Honda, Nissan, Volkswagen and Saturn dealerships will move to the site, which will be accessible off Highway 62 via Coker Butte Road.

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

This rendering of The Commons shows a view looking north from the project’s southwest corner. Buildings from the top include a new parking structure, Lithia’s 10-story office building, Lithia’s second office building and a mixed-use commercial/residential building. Bartlett Street will be modified into two one-way streets alongside three urban park blocks, with a brew pub at the north end. Jackson Street runs across the top of the image and Riverside Avenue runs at an angle on the right.