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Share the wealth


MURA should back the Lithia project, but not give it everything

When Lithia Motors first aired the idea of building a corporate headquarters in downtown Medford with the help of urban renewal money, the response from some quarters was on the chilly side.

Lithia, the 900-pound gorilla of Medford business, hardly needs anyone's help, the doubters said.

Now criticism of the project is gaining momentum from another quarter: those who fear the Lithia project will eat up all of urban renewal's budget in coming years.

What good is the agency, they say, if it doesn't have money for anything else?

Early indications are these aren't just idle worries. In a meeting Tuesday, board members confirmed they believe something will have to give if MURA is to help cover costs of the &

36;147 million Middleford Commons, seven blocks of development with Lithia as its anchor.

We have endorsed Middleford Commons. But we wouldn't support it if that meant MURA were to close down for all other business.

— In recent years,MURA has turned a sorry downtown on its head. A popular (and relatively inexpensive) building facade-improvement program, accompanied by new street lights, landscaping and sidewalks, have spiffed up a wide district, encouraging building owners to renovate and bringing in a long list of new businesses and projects.

Much as the Middleford project would make downtown even better, we don't think it's worth giving up everything else ' nor do we think that should be necessary.

Instead, in this budget-setting season the agency ought to look toward what has worked and how it can spread its reach around its district. It ought to stretch to find ways to fund other projects while allowing the Middleford plan enough to move forward.

Insiders worry that MURA is losing momentum without permanent leadership, which it has lacked since Kurt Olsen resigned in December.

This is a crossroads for the agency. It has done a great deal of good in Medford in its 18 years, but it risks losing support from several quarters if it throws everything to Middleford Commons.

The solution here should be clear: Share the wealth.