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Downtown to gain planters and lose a broken fountain, while pavers stay

Ashland's downtown will gain a freestanding planters and lose a broken fountain, but will stick with the controversial pavers on the Plaza, the City Council decided in recent meetings.

The council voted 5-1 Tuesday to declare a 24-year-old marble fountain in Chautauqua Square, in front of the Black Swan Theatre, surplus property. The decision, which would allow the public to buy the fountain if they wanted to remove and relocate it themselves, came after the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which leases the square from the city, requested its removal.

The fountain was installed in 1990 but shut off in 1992, after the marble began to "weep," or leak water from its basin. Ted DeLong, the festival's general manager, said removing the fountain would allow the festival to use the space for community activities, as well as helping with transient behavior issues downtown.

"Our near terms plan for the space are more activating with use rather than with structures," DeLong told the council, explaining that the festival was applying for a conditional use permit to host a concession vendor in the square. "There's lots of phrases that have been bandied about, I think food cart is probably most accurate — but we're not being prescriptive at this time."

City Administrator Dave Kanner explained that recent estimates put the cost of repairing the fountain at $90,000, and the cost of removing it at $2,000. The city, he explained, has an obligation to remove the fountain under the terms of its lease agreement with the Shakespeare Festival.

Councilor Carol Voisin was the sole dissenter, arguing that the fountain can and should be fixed, and that it's removal would simply push problem individuals to other areas rather than addressing their behavior directly.

Following an earlier City Council decision Dec. 16, 2014, the city will be moving forward with downtown beautification plans that don't include replacing the dark gray blocks, which have been at the center of controversy since their installation in 2013, with many people demanding their removal. One of two recommendations by the Downtown Plaza Beautification ad Hoc Committee was to remove an area of gray pavers in the half circle of the plaza and replace them with decorative pavers, at a cost of $15,000.

Voisin and Councilor Rich Rosenthal both argued that the city didn't need to be spending that much money on pavers, while Councilor Mike Morris indicated he wanted to go with the recommendations they had asked the committee for. In a 4-2 decision, the council voted to amend the motion to solicit bids for only one of the recommended projects, which entails adding three freestanding planters, with irrigation, as well as adding plants and decorative fencing to existing landscape beds. 

The council also directed city staff to bring back a proposal for adding hanging baskets in the downtown area using funds from the Transient Occupancy Tax.

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.