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Thanks to voters, Sports and Events Center will happen

This past Tuesday, with the passage of Measures 15-187 and 15-188 related to the city’s lodging tax, Medford won.

It has taken generations to get the funding sources needed to build modern aquatics facilities in the city of Medford. The proposed Medford Sports and Events Center is more encompassing than previous proposals, as it includes a large area for a wide variety for indoor sports and also can be a place for events such as graduations, trade shows, concerts, statewide organization meetings and a slew of other potential uses that we may not even have on our radar.

There are obviously many people involved that helped get the measures passed. Like someone giving a speech at the Oscars, there is a laundry list of people who worked in all sorts of capacities to thank. Attempting to list everyone will invariably leave others out, so I will just mention a few. Thanks to Medford’s Chief Financial Officer Ryan Martin, City Manager Brian Sjothun, and Parks and Recreation Director Rich Rosenthal, who worked to get the potential funding options and prototype design plans on the table. The mayor and Medford City Council approved the concept and gave a green light to take the necessary next steps. City Councilor Alex Poythress and I led the campaign of the Friends of Howard Memorial Sports Park, along with community leaders Ed Singler, Dennis Murphy, Bill Thorndike and Doug Naversen.

The question now is, what happens next? The funding plan consists of four major parts of varying dollar figures. Now that voters approved increasing the lodging tax, the City Council will consider the other three funding streams: an expanded car rental tax that includes citywide rentals, renewing the bond currently used to pay for construction of U.S. Cellular Community Park, and an increase in the Parks Utility Fee.

The Parks Utility Fee receives the most scrutiny, and it was most recently adjusted in 2007 when the City Council approved it as the primary mechanism to pay for the sports park, rather than a property tax consideration. That has obviously been a wise investment of civic resources and leads to attempting to build on that success. This council has the opportunity to raise the Parks Utility Fee but lower the Sewer Utility Fee in an equal amount to offset the financial impact — a net-zero impact for Medford residents’ utility bills for the near term.

The lodging tax comprises roughly 25 % of the funding for the facility, and with the ongoing global pandemic rocking our expected tourism dollars, we are in a precarious spot, but far from a fatal one. Even in the rosiest economic stature, it would take three years to build the facility.

Hopefully, with council direction this coming Thursday, the city can start the request for proposal process for hiring an architect along with working on the engineering of the project. To make the proposal “shovel-ready,” the city will need to go through its conditional- use permit process for the Howard Memorial Sports Park site in west Medford.

The vision and opportunity of the city’s Sports and Events Complex concept has not been clouded as a result of the economic downturn, but instead has been further enhanced with voter support. The goal is to continue efforts to make this all-ages, multi-use facility come to fruition. As a nation, state and city, we will get through this period of time, and with the creation of this new complex, make Medford stronger than ever before.

Kevin Stine is president of the Medford City Council.

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