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‘Food desert’ gets some help

Medford Urban Renewal Agency has agreed to purchase property along North Riverside for housing, Bear Creek access and a market
La Fiesta on North Riverside Avenue in Medford is part of an area being planned for revitalization in the Liberty Park neighborhood. Plans include a market near the restaurant, a pedestrian bridge over Bear Creek, and an apartment building. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Medford Urban Renewal Agency voted Thursday to purchase the Pacific Survey Supply property, at 908 N. Riverside Ave., as part of revitalization efforts in the area. [Jamie Lusch/Mail Tribune]

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency Thursday unanimously approved the $1,275,000 purchase of a Riverside Avenue property to help spark redevelopment of this often overlooked area of Medford.

“I consider that area a food desert in terms of market availability,” said Tim D’Alessandro, a MURA board member and city councilor. “If we get something in there, it would be a benefit to our community.”

MURA hopes to attract a developer who could build an apartment complex with up to 45 units, and the owner of La Fiesta Restaurant wants to build a neighborhood market. A proposed pedestrian bridge over Bear Creek has also been proposed.

Last May, MURA delayed the purchase agreement until an environmental assessment could be conducted on the property.

At the time, a preliminary environmental review found staining and hydraulic fluid around the Pacific Supply property, which is not uncommon in the downtown area.

A more thorough assessment found minor instances of ground water and soil contamination but no significant environmental or financial risks for future redevelopment.

A car dealership and repair shop previously were located at that site.

The city has purchased other properties in the past, particularly in the downtown core, and has paid to clean up environmental problems.

One of MURA’s goals over the years has been to take problem properties and improve them, the Medford Commons being one example.

Mike Zarosinski, a MURA board member and councilor, had earlier expressed concern about overpaying for a property that had potential environmental problems.

“I feel pretty confident this is a good purchase for us,” he said Thursday.

In 2021, the Pacific Supply property was appraised at $1.45 million, but the owners agreed to take the reduced price.

With the option agreement approved, MURA is on track to purchase 908-920 N. Riverside Ave., which includes the Pacific Supply building and is one acre in size.

The various properties involved in the revitalization also include 1.7 acres owned by La Fiesta Restaurant as well as administrative offices of Kids Unlimited.

La Fiesta originally proposed a 17,000-square-foot market on its property next to Bear Creek.

MURA has proposed a land swap to enable La Fiesta to build the neighborhood grocery store closer to Riverside on the Pacific Supply property, freeing up the area along Bear Creek.

This would allow construction of a possible apartment complex next to the creek and a pedestrian bridge. MURA hopes to attract a developer to build the 45 units.

MURA has been working to develop more badly needed housing around downtown Medford and in the low-income Liberty Park neighborhood where the La Fiesta development is proposed.

One of MURA’s biggest goals is to redevelop the Liberty Park neighborhood with $18 million that will be used to leverage state and federal grants for a variety of projects.

Some of the money has been used to convert a hotel into housing for fire survivors and the homeless.

MURA has bought and demolished several nuisance buildings in the Liberty Park neighborhood, and the city has been installing new sidewalks on some streets.

A flagship project proposed by MURA is a $48 million low-income apartment building on a 3.25-acre Central Avenue property next to Les Schwab.

The four-story complex would have 115 one- to three-bedroom units.

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