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Medford building projects could spark revitalization

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune RVTD will renovate the interior of the old Greyhound building and turn it into a Mobility Center where the general public can learn how to use RVTD's bus system and Valley Lift. It’s one of numerous building projects underway in Medford.

A dozen projects in the pipeline could help transform Medford, create more housing and spark a revitalization of the downtown and surrounding areas.

In total, projects now on the drawing board could provide about 1,000 housing units in the coming years that would help offset some of the losses the valley endured from the Almeda fire.

On May 3, a groundbreaking will signal the start of a 62-unit apartment complex at South Holly and West Eighth streets by local developer Laz Ayala, who has renovated a number of downtown buildings.

While many of the projects in the pipeline address the need for low-income or workforce housing, others are preparing the city for the next phase of its evolution.

Rogue Valley Transportation District estimates that by the year 2040 it will need 60 buses in operation, but its facilities at its Crater Lake Avenue campus can handle only 45.

RVTD, in preparation for projected growth, is gearing up to create a transit hub around the Front Street Station and move its administrative offices to a former Rogue Community College building at 130 E. Eighth St.

RVTD has already moved some of its operational and maintenance functions to another building at the former location of Farrell’s Glass Service on Front Street.

Greyhound decided not to renew its lease on the bus terminal on Front Street, so RVTD will be renovating the building to create a mobility training center for disabled residents who need help learning how to negotiate the bus system. Greyhound will continue to offer bus service in Medford.

RVTD is currently competing for grants to help fund these projects along with setting aside money for matching dollars.

The downtown administrative building, which will have 15 employees and where board meetings will be held, is expected to cost $811,222 to renovate, a majority of which could come from an Oregon Department of Transportation grant.

The Federal Transit Administration in March awarded RVTD $12,552,523, which helps provide the bulk of money needed for a planned $15.5 million expansion of RVTD’s bus and driver-training facility at 3200 Crater Lake Ave. The current administration building at the campus will be bulldozed when the downtown building is remodeled.

“Eventually the whole area around Front will be a transit mall, a pedestrian mall,” said Julie Brown, general manager of RVTD.

Brown said her organization has also noted the future growth in and around the downtown.

A short distance from RVTD’s downtown transit hub, a 50-unit apartment complex is in the planning stages for the former Palace Hotel at the corner of Eighth and Central.

“I think the critical thing is once you get housing in the downtown it’s a real game changer,” said Harry Weiss, executive director of the Medford Urban Renewal Agency.

Over the years, there have been lots of projects proposed that never made it past the initial design phase.

“There has been a lot of wait and see in Medford,” Weiss said.

The groundbreaking for the Ayala apartment complex marks a turning point that could spark more interest from developers for apartments in the downtown, Weiss said.

MURA has been working with developers on various projects to help stimulate growth in the downtown.

MURA is hoping to attract federal and state grants for a proposed $48 million low-income housing project next to Les Schwab on Central Avenue that would have 115 or more units.

Western Hospitality has been reworking the design and engineering on a proposed 110-room Marriott Hotel on Fourth Street, bounded by Third Street to the north, North Apple Street to the east and North Bartlett Street to the west. The project is scheduled for review by the city in the near future.

The largest housing project in the planning stages is a proposed 400-unit apartment complex next to the Northgate Marketplace.

Creations Northwest LLC has proposed a complex of mostly one- and two-bedroom units on a 14-acre property off McAndrews Road adjacent to the shopping plaza that contains Trader Joe’s.

Portland-based Fortify Holdings has become a heavy hitter in the housing arena in Medford, buying up aging hotels and converting them into studio apartments.

Weiss said he sees more opportunities for developers in and around the downtown.

“There’s enormous opportunities along the Highway 99 corridor,” he said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.

Projects in the pipeline
  • Groundbreaking will be held May 3 for a 62-unit apartment at Holly and Eighth streets.
  • Rogue Valley Transportation District wants to build a transit mall around the Front Street bus station.
  • The former Inn at the Commons is scheduled for conversion into 115 studio apartments.
  • The upstairs of the former Palace Hotel on Central Avenue, which also houses Bricketowne, could be converted into 50-plus apartments.
  • The former Best Value Inn on Riverside Avenue was converted into 84 units to house fire survivors.
  • The 110-room Econolodge already houses fire survivors but could be converted into apartments.
  • The 165-room Ramada Inn next to Food for Less could be converted into more housing for fire survivors.
  • Medford wants to build 100-plus units of low-income apartments next to Les Schwab on Central Avenue.
  • Next to the Northgate Plaza, an apartment complex with 400 units has been proposed.
  • The 10-year effort to finish the remodeling of the Holly Theatre is expected to begin this year.
  • A 110-room Marriott Hotel is planned on Fourth Street, across from Pear Blossom Park
  • Rogue Community College has placed its main downtown building up for sale. City officials hope a developer comes up with plans for The Central Avenue building, which has been seismically retrofitted, just north of the library.