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Housing will boost downtown revitalization

At long last, the missing piece of the puzzle that is downtown revitalization — residential housing — is coming to Medford.

A planned 60-unit apartment complex a block from City Hall adds to the previously announced conversion of the Inn at the Commons to small apartments. In addition, America’s Best Value Inn on North Riverside will become apartments as well. And an extended-stay Mariott Hotel is on tap for Fourth Street just across from the north end of Pear Blossom Park.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency has a hand in several of these projects, including the apartment complex planned for what is now a MURA parking lot at West Eighth and South Holly streets. Under a deal now being worked out, MURA would sell the property to developer Laz Ayala and use the proceeds to relocate utilities and build sidewalks for the apartments.

The complex would feature studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments, the kind of housing that is in great demand. And housing is exactly what is needed to take downtown Medford to the next level.

Housing was always on MURA’s list of desired improvements, and renewal projects were designed with residential components. For a variety of reasons, including the recession that hit in 2007, the housing element never materialized. The property where One West Main now sits was previously planned for a mixed-use project that fell through. Now, it houses corporate offices and ground-floor retail spaces that sit empty.

The Lithia headquarters building at The Commons originally was to include a residential component as well, but the project was scaled down after the recession and the residential piece was dropped.

Now, it appears the new projects to create housing will finally bring people downtown to live. When that happens, commercial ventures will follow, because downtown dwellers will want places to buy food and other necessities within walking distance. They will patronize downtown restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.

Some of those attractions are already in the works. A new wine tasting room is being proposed for the empty lot at Fourth and Fir streets. The Randall Theater has already opened its Ghostlight Playhouse in the former Howiee’s performance space. And the Holly Theater restoration is in the works.

As the area prepares to emerge from the pandemic shutdowns, these are all hopeful signs that downtown Medford will rebound bigger and better than ever.