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Downtown association on the right track

A new attempt to form a downtown association dedicated to revitalizing Medford’s core business district is a welcome development, especially if the group helps advocate for new shelter projects to address the issue of homeless people congregating downtown.

One of the primary organizers is Lindsay Berryman, a former mayor of Medford who made downtown revitalization a centerpiece of her time in office. Twenty years ago, Berryman asked Medford residents to share their vision of what downtown could be. A primary focus of that vision statement was to develop Bear Creek as the centerpiece of downtown, with a river walk treatment that would provide creekside walkways and decks, and downtown businesses that reoriented their design to face the creek rather than Riverside Avenue.

That never happened, although substantial investment in the downtown by the Medford Urban Renewal Agency resulted in improvements including The Commons park blocks, new parking structures, redesigned sidewalks and street lighting and a facade improvement program for businesses.

The new group, called the Downtown Medford Association, seeks to involve not just business owners, but also building owners, community members and city officials. Its focus will be on economic development in the context of historic preservation.

Those are laudable goals, but a little hard to pin down. More specifically, the new association wants to create more attractions to make downtown a destination for locals as well as visitors. Travel Medford, the local tourism agency and a partner in the association, is working on creating new festivals to bring people downtown.

Medford still lacks a significant urban residential component, which would go a long way toward injecting life into downtown. Until significant numbers of people are living and not just working there, special events will go only so far. Involving the owners of downtown buildings, who have a vested interest in getting the most out of their properties, will help; the city’s efforts to encourage seismic retrofitting of historic buildings is a key step as well.

One specific concern of downtown business owners is the increased presence of homeless people. That’s a legitimate concern, and the city can use all the help it can get in coming up with solutions. One potential solution would be an expanded tiny house village away from downtown to give the homeless a place to be that’s not on downtown streets.

A guest opinion on the next page describes a project in Austin, Texas, that combines RV spaces, tiny houses and tents along with services to meet the needs of those without housing. The result is a functioning community that has the support of businesses and local residents.

It will be important for the Downtown Medford Association to become an active partner in efforts to create new shelter options, not just rely on the city to address the problem.