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Medford has downtown projects ready to roll out

Big changes are coming to downtown Medford and the nearby low-income neighborhood known as Liberty Park.

More than a dozen projects are in the pipeline that could spark a more urban vibe, bring a lot more foot traffic into the city center, create badly needed housing, eliminate blight and spur economic vitality.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency is looking at a number of projects in the Liberty Park neighborhood that would resurrect blighted properties.

“This is quite a moment for moving forward with projects,” said Eric Stark, Medford Urban Renewal Agency board chair. “They’re not just ideas. They are coming to fruition.”

Keeping track of all the projects almost feels like playing a game of monopoly, with three hotels potentially being transformed into apartments, one new hotel in the works, low-income housing and other smaller proposals.

“There is a lot of positive momentum right now,” Stark said.

The latest project is the potential conversion of America’s Best Value Inn from a 74-room motel into small apartments at 518 N. Riverside Ave.

Fortify Holdings, which is planning to convert the nearby Inn at the Commons into 123 apartments, is also working on the America’s Best project.

A 110-room, extended stay Marriott is being eyed just north of Pear Blossom Park in downtown Medford.

Western Hospitality LLC, working with Marriott, has been developing plans for a lot that faces Fourth Street, and its Marriott hotel proposal calls for a five-story building.

The Liberty Park neighborhood is being teed up for a number of projects thanks to an almost $18 million catalyst from the Medford Urban Renewal Agency.

The neighborhood, which abuts downtown, is roughly bounded by Jackson Street on the south, the Bear Creek Greenway on the east, Central Avenue on the west and East McAndrews Road on the north.

One potential near-term project is conversion of The Redwood hotel, at 722 N. Riverside Ave., into emergency housing for Almeda fire survivors and homeless people.

Rogue Retreat, a Medford nonprofit involved in providing shelter for the homeless, is working on the proposal to buy the hotel for $2.35 million and convert it into 47 suites with kitchens.

The organization is working with the city to apply for a portion of the $30 million Project Turnkey grant designed to aid fire victims in Oregon. If successful, this would be the second conversion of a hotel into housing for fire victims in Jackson County, the other being the Super 8 motel in Ashland.

Rogue Retreat will apply for a grant from MURA as it looks for ways to pay for an estimated $500,000 renovation to install prefabricated kitchenettes in 31 units. The remaining 16 units already have kitchens.

Harry Weiss, executive director of MURA, said his board recently indicated its willingness to support the Rogue Retreat renovation project if the state grant is approved for the purchase of the hotel.

“We’re still crunching numbers,” he said.

MURA has been buying up some properties in the Liberty Park neighborhood, hoping to help spark a transformation of this area, which is also going to get various street improvements.

Two weeks ago, the MURA board, made up of city councilors, approved the purchase of a gutted and abandoned house at 532 Putnam that has been a nuisance for the surrounding neighborhood.

MURA is exploring a larger public purpose for the lot, which could be a duplex or possibly a house with a separate accessory unit. The units could be used for some kind of emergency housing.

Another project is creation of low-income housing and some commercial businesses just to the north of Les Schwab on Central Avenue.

MURA bought a warehouse and the surrounding 3.25 acres in 2019 for $1.75 million that may become a flagship project for Liberty Park.

MURA hopes to attract a developer who could build a 125-unit housing complex on the property. The warehouse is being eyed as a workforce training site.

In the downtown, MURA has set aside $1.9 million to help seismically retrofit buildings and also to provide grants of up to $50,000 to a property owner to install fire sprinkler systems.

Kid Time, which is moving into the former library building on Main Street, has already received a $50,000 sprinkler grant from the city.

A house at 526 W. Sixth St. is getting $32,000 for sprinklers needed to help transform the building into six apartments.

Sprinklers are one way for old buildings to help meet new fire codes.

“A sprinkler system helps forgive a multitude of sins,” said Harry Weiss, executive director of MURA. “It helps extend the life of a building.”

The Inn at the Commons project to convert it into apartments may also seek a fire sprinkler grant from MURA.

Other projects are also in the works.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency is in negotiations with a developer to transform a 45-space parking lot at Eighth and Holly streets into a housing project of up to 50 units, similar in scale to the 50-unit Concord, a four-story low-income apartment complex behind the Mail Tribune building off Grape Street.

Another parking lot on Jackson Street could be converted into a 12-unit complex.

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

This vacant Medford house was purchased recently by the Medford Urban Renewal Agency.{ } (Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune)