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Finishing motel conversion should be a priority

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency is weighing its options to deal with a motel-conversion project facing financial difficulties. Getting solid information is important, but MURA board members should keep in mind the agency’s goal of revitalizing the Liberty Park neighborhood and do everything possible to help finish the project.

The Redwood Inn Motel project, funded in part with a state Project Turnkey grant designed to house fire survivors and the homeless, was designed to convert the motel into 47 small apartment units. MURA helped Rogue Retreat, the project applicant, secure a $2.5 million state grant and provided $450,000 in urban renewal funds. The state also allocated $139,000 to help add kitchens, and Providence agreed to add $139,000 to convert some units to serve people with medical conditions.

The project has been stalled for months, and might need as much as $1.8 million in additional money to get back on track.

Rogue Retreat is experiencing financial difficulties, but this is not the only motel-conversion project facing a funding gap. Deputy City Manager Kelly Madding says state officials have acknowledged that the grants to local communities probably weren’t large enough.

Construction costs have soared in recent years, skilled workers are hard to find, and supply-chain issues have meant delays in getting needed supplies and equipment. Some commercial developments in Medford have seen delays while waiting for deliveries of back-ordered equipment such as heating and air conditioning units.

Members of the MURA board — which is made up of Medford City Council members — were divided on the question of contributing more money to the Redwood Inn when discussing the issue in a recent meeting. One said he was not inclined to support additional funding, but others said they wanted to see more detailed information.

By all means, the board should closely scrutinize any request before agreeing to provide more money. But this is an opportunity to provide badly needed housing for fire survivors and the homeless. One of the city’s options — to sell the property and pay the state back for the grant money — likely wouldn’t accomplish the goal of creating housing for fire survivors and the homeless. Another option, to find another nonprofit organization to take over the project, would add further delay, and probably not eliminate the need for additional funding.

If the city is reluctant to contribute more money, it could appeal to the Legislature for additional help, or offer to share the cost of an additional grant. Given that shortfalls also are plaguing other-motel conversion projects, it should be possible to make the case for more state assistance.

The priority should be getting the project completed as efficiently as possible.