Aerial view of Croman Mill circa 1960
Croman Mill, which takes up 65 acres inside Ashland’s city limits along I-5, is a reminder of a bygone area for a town now known more for Shakespeare than two-by-fours. The property has been dormant since the mill’s 1996 closure but plans for a redevelopment are moving ahead despite the fears of local businesses.
The Ashland Planning Commission approved plans in late February to rezone the site to develop single-family residential units, light industrial and manufacturing buildings, and a plethora of retail businesses, including restaurants, offices, nightclubs, bars and shops. Development is expected to take decades and be a source of major economic activity.
“It is a very, very important addition for the area and the region,” says Ron Fox, the executive director of Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. Ashland has very little land for development. Ashland businesses could expand or move; new businesses may move to the area.
“The whole idea is to create jobs for Ashland for the next 20 years,” says Ashland planning manager Maria Harris.
Planners estimate that 2,000 to 3,000 jobs will be created. “It will be a big portion of our future job growth,” says Adam Hank, project manager with the city of Ashland.
The plan is not without detractors. Zach Brombacher, the owner of printing company IPCO, says the millions it will cost for road improvements and creating sewer and electric systems will make rent so high businesses won’t move there. “They’re probably pricing themselves out,” he says.
Fear felt by local business owners is reminiscent of a similar redevelopment of a mill area a decade ago. There was concern that the Old Mill District would destroy Bend’s downtown businesses. But Chuck Arnold, the president of the Downtown Bend Business Association, says the district’s mix of retail and larger chain stores complements downtown’s small boutique businesses.
“The existence of the Old Mill doesn’t seem to create this dynamic of downtown versus Old Mill,” Arnold says.
A downtown business district co-existing with a business district with different offerings has helped Bend maintain a strong, diversified and vibrant economy. “That’s what Ashland should look into,” he says.