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Medford convention center idea gets boost

A long-sought convention center in Medford received a legislative boost that one day may provide half the dollars needed for the project.

“We’ve been talking about it for 10 years,” state Sen. Alan Bates said. “It’s time to stop talking and get things done.”

Bates, D-Medford, has pushed through legislation that sets aside $100,000 to study locations and costs of building a convention center in the Medford area.

He said the goal of the study will be to determine how big of a facility Southern Oregon needs, or whether the region can even support a conference site.

One concern is how to get the right-sized facility, Bates said.

“We want it big enough to bring people in, but not big enough that it will break you,” he said.

The city of Medford will help select a consulting agency that will perform the study of the convention center.

Locations that officials have considered range all over the area, including near Centennial Golf Course, near the Medford airport, former car lots in downtown Medford, expansion of existing facilities at the Inn at the Commons, near the south Medford Interstate 5 interchange and even at the county fairgrounds in nearby Central Point..

Once the study is completed, and assuming that it pencils out, Bates said, he would approach the Legislature in 2017 and request half the funding for a convention center, with the other half to come from local sources.

Medford Councilor Daniel Bunn said he hopes the study will identify the size of the convention center that would meet the needs of this region.

“The thing I’ve heard the most complaints about is overbuilding,” he said. “If you build small and add on later, it’s a good problem to have.”

Bunn said he thinks the region would benefit from a convention center.

“There are groups that would love to come to Medford but they can’t,” he said.

Bunn said everyone needs to have an open mind before the study is completed and not get stuck on a particular location — or get stuck on the idea that this region can even support a convention center.

“If they say it doesn’t work, we shouldn’t do it,” he said.

Bunn said he would like to see some discussion about creating a multi-use facility. He said other convention centers in the country can accommodate sports activities as well as seminars.

Bunn said he's prepared to go to bat to get the local share of money to match funding that Bates hopes would come from the state.

“At the end of the day, the citizens of Medford are going to have to chip in something,” Bunn said. “It’s going to cost.”

Brad Hicks, president of the Medford/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, said Bates and Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, pushed to get the money for the feasibility study for something that has been discussed for a long time in this region.

“The first step in the process is to make sure we vet who does the work,” Hicks said.

He said the community doesn’t want to hire a firm that will just tell everybody what they want to hear.

“If a convention center is not feasible, the study should make it clear that this area could not sustain that kind of space,” Hicks said.

He said he, too, would like some consideration for a multi-use facility that could potentially take advantage of the success of U.S. Cellular Community Park.

“We might host district Rotary on a Thursday and a basketball tournament on a Saturday or Sunday,” he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.