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Bumps in the road for Medford’s downtown

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

DowntownMedford.jpgMEDFORD Its library was forced to close its doors, and one of its cornerstone developments is on ice, but champions of downtown Medford are still optimistic that their plans for a revitalized core are on track.

The Bella Vita on Main, the mixed-use development that was heralded by the Medford Urban Renewal Agency (MURA) as a cornerstone development, is on hold indefinitely because of the environment for real-estate finance. “The markt is solid,” says Bella Vita’s  developer Terry Cook, “but financing is impossible.” Cook, of Portland-based Cook Development, says he had about 50% of the retail and residential building pre-sold but after pitches to 64 lending sources, he came up empty.

Still, MURA director Jackie Rodgers is optimistic that other downtown redevelopment projects will pick up the slack. Ground may be broken as early as October on The Commons, an eight-block development project (including three blocks of open space) anchored by the Lithia Motors headquarters. A Bartlett Street overhaul is also well under way and the street will eventually break through a parking structure that currently breaks its flow. A new higher education building for Rogue Community College and Southern Oregon University should be done by fall 2008.

Rodgers also points out that dozens of downtown buldings have received facelifts through the city’s façade program, receiving grants between $1,000 and $37,500 to spiff up historic structures.

Salvatore Mellelo, who started his Mellelo Coffee Roasters business in a corner espresso stand in 1992, says he’s pleased with the progress downtown is making, despite the fact that he was forced to close one of his three downtown shops, the one at the downtown branch of the library, due to a lack of foot traffic. Jackson County closed its libraries in April when officials were unable to find a funding source.

“When I first started, I didn’t see much in the way of loving downtown,” Mellelo says. “But I’ve always loved downtown. I thought, ‘I know what this could be.’”

Despite the setbacks, he still does.

CHRISTINA WILLIAMS

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