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Annexing Howard land makes sense

Plans by the city of Medford to pursue annexing the Wes Howard property could finally result in the sports park many envisioned when he left the property to the city in 2003. That would be a big improvement over the current status of the land.

Howard Memorial Sports Park Inc., the nonprofit entity created to manage the bequest, built some roads and donated 5.5 acres of the 58-acre property to Logos Public Charter School, but the rest of the property has sat idle. The land sits at the corner of Rossanley Drive and Ross Lane, west of the current city limits.

Without annexation, the city has little say over what happens there. The previous board asked the city to appoint new board members to advance the process of turning the land into a city park.

Among the ideas floated for the property have been a community pool — something Medford badly needs — and an athletics center. Selling some of Wes Howard’s property where the BiMart on West Main Street is situated could provide proceeds to start developing the park.

Medford Parks and Recreation Director Rich Rosenthal, one of the new board members, has estimated the county’s plan would cost $15 million, not counting lighting and artificial turf.

U.S. Cellular Community Park, on the south edge of town, has proved to be a financial success for the city and the region, drawing tourists and visiting sports teams. A smaller sports complex on the Howard property, especially if it included a pool, could be similarly successful, while providing a community park for nearly 3,000 residents of nearby neighborhoods who don’t have one now.

A Wes Howard Memorial Sports Park is a logical step for the city to take as it grows. A public hearing Thursday night was the first step in what will be a lengthy process, but one well worth pursuing.