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Creative land swap helps historic theater

A creative real estate deal and land swap is solving a problem that has dogged efforts to restore the historic Holly Theatre for years.

The Holly Theatre in downtown Medford needs the parking lot directly behind its building for a loading dock and truck and tour bus parking.

But that’s where Southern Oregon Education Service District employees park.

Meanwhile, a boarded-up building across the street had become a neighborhood nuisance, with homeless people leaving trash, mattresses and shopping carts on the property.

Then the land shuffling began.

OnTrack sold the boarded-up building and its parking lot to the Holly Theatre for $140,000 — turning down a higher offer from another buyer in order to help out the theater restoration project, said Alan Ledford, OnTrack’s executive director.

“I think it really was the right thing for us to do,” he said.

Crews began tearing down OnTrack’s old building last week.

The Holly Theatre will pave over the entire property, turning it into a bigger parking lot.

It will then swap the freshly paved property in exchange for the section of the Southern Oregon Education Service District’s parking lot that is directly behind the theater.

“We’ve been working for six years trying to solve this problem,” said Randy McKay, executive director of Jefferson Live!, which runs both the Holly and the Cascade Theatre in Redding.

McKay said negotiations among the Holly, OnTrack and the education service district made the solution possible.

“It really took all three. This wasn’t something the Holly Theatre could manage to make happen all on its own,” he said.

McKay said years ago, the Holly Theatre owned the parking area behind its building.

Regaining control of the property means a loading dock and electrical transformer can be built there to serve the Holly Theatre. The lot will also provide parking room for trucks and tour buses so they don’t clog up surrounding streets, McKay said.

“The Holly gets that prime property we need behind our back wall,” he said.

If the Holly Theatre stage ever needs to be expanded, the parking lot will provide room to grow, McKay said.

OnTrack’s decision not to remodel its nearby boarded-up building paved the way for the creative solution.

OnTrack once operated a residential addiction treatment center for teens there.

But it shut down the center in 2016 amid a series of upheavals impacting its whole organization, said Ledford, who was hired as OnTrack’s new executive director in 2017.

OnTrack had been faulted by the state for unsafe living conditions at some of its treatment facilities, prompting a series of remodeling projects and reforms.

But Ledford said the old teen treatment center needed so many repairs it didn’t make sense to spend money on the building.

“It just didn’t pencil out to rebuild it,” he said.

OnTrack continues to provide outpatient addiction treatment for teens at its main building on the corner of North Holly and West Main Streets, not far from the Holly Theatre, Ledford said.

Although OnTrack boarded up the old teen center and the water and electricity were shut off, transients who wanted shelter repeatedly broke in, he said.

“Something needed to be done with it,” Ledford said.

When the idea for a property sale and a land swap came up, Ledford said OnTrack’s board of directors enthusiastically backed the opportunity to help the Holly Theatre restoration project.

He noted both OnTrack and the Holly Theatre restoration project are nonprofit organizations.

Ledford said other cities that have renovated historic theaters have seen surrounding neighborhoods revitalized.

“Those theaters and those sections of town have really prospered,” he said.

The Holly Theatre is in the midst of a multi-year, $11 million restoration and still needs $3.5 million to meet its $9.4 million fundraising goals.

If supporters can’t reach that $9.4 million goal by the end of this year or early next year, the project will begin losing federal funding that makes up the gap between that $9.4 million and the full $11 million needed, McKay said.

If the community can hit the fundraising goal, the theater could be finished by the end of 2020, he said.

Contractors are currently installing heating, ventilation, air conditioning, electrical, plumbing, alarm and fire sprinkler systems — basically all the components that will later be hidden behind finished interior walls and ceilings, McKay said.

The inside of the theater is currently torn away to reveal studs and brick walls. A hole gaping in the roof and covered with plastic is providing room for the installation of the HVAC system.

This phase of the project will likely wrap up around the end of October, McKay said.

The most visible change for visitors will be a completed lobby and offices, he said.

The Holly Theatre originally opened in 1930 in the style of a grand movie palace.

Once restored, it will become the largest indoor entertainment venue in the region with 1,020 seats, according to backers.

McKay said concerts and other entertainment at the theater will help revitalize downtown Medford, boosting local businesses and drawing 10,000 guests annually to Rogue Valley hotels.

“This project is really important to the overall vibrancy of our economy and certainly the overall vibrancy of downtown Medford,” he said.

McKay urged community members to learn more about the project and consider making a donation.

For more information on the restoration project, visit www.hollytheatre.org.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Crews tear down a dilapidated building that once housed an OnTrack teen addiction treatment center in downtown Medford. The land will be turned into a parking lot as part of a deal that will benefit the nearby Holly Theatre restoration project. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune