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Beauty has a price tag

Downtown merchants would be the beneficiaries of a proposed economic district that would raise $315,946 over a three-year period to improve Medford's central business area. But owners of those properties would also be the ones asked to pay for it, so the city wants to know what they think of the idea.

The Medford City Council on Thursday approved sending out letters to 118 property owners in the downtown area to let them know a public hearing is coming up to discuss creation of an economic improvement district. The date of the hearing hasn't been set.

“We’re looking for support from the people in the district,” Councilor Daniel Bunn said.

The proposal, which failed to attract enough support in October 2013, calls for creating an economic improvement district that would beautify the downtown by installing signs, maintaining tree wells, purchasing benches and installing hanging flower baskets along Main Street. In addition, the district would create events and conduct an ongoing marketing campaign that would require 35 percent of the money raised, or $105,384.

“You drive into many small communities, and you see decorations and lights,” said Diane Raymond, executive director of Metro Medford, an association of downtown businesses. “They’re alive. You drive down our downtown and The Commons looks good, but Main Street has nothing going on.”

The average cost for a property in the district would be $75 a month, or $900 a year. The maximum amount a property would pay would be $167 a month, or $2,004 annually. Properties in the core downtown area would pay more than those on some side streets.

Raymond said the recent completion of The Commons, including the new Lithia Motors headquarters, and the new corporate building known as One West Main have provided an incentive to improve the rest of the downtown.

She said more work needs to be done to better connect The Commons with Main Street businesses. Suggestions include adding art work and other amenities for the Middleford garage at Sixth Street and Riverside Avenue to provide a better bridge between the two areas of the downtown.

Voting on the proposal would be weighted according to the value of the properties that would be assessed the fee. If it goes to a vote, the district would not be approved if the city receives objections from property owners whose total assessed value is more than 33 percent of the value of the entire district. Owners with 36 percent of the value of the properties said no last year.

Other communities that have economic improvement districts include Bend, McMinnville, Canby, Portland, Salem and Gresham, Raymond said.

Over the past year, Raymond and others have met with the property owners, particularly those who were opposed, to gain their support.

The district would generally extend from Bear Creek on the east side of downtown to Holly Street on the west, and from 10th Street on the south side to Fourth Street on the north, though the boundaries stick to blocks with the highest concentration of businesses.

The property owners, not the businesses, would be required to pay the tax — even if the building was empty.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

A downtown Medford group is pushing forward with a proposal to create an economic development district to beautify the area. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell