Big Expectations for Downtown Revival in 2014

, Posted: Wed, January 8 2014 at 6:19 PM, Updated: Wed, January 8 2014 at 7:16 PM

Nui Kai, a pet store that's been around in downtown Medford for almost 30 years will be closing for good at the end of January.

"I think it has to do with the economy," said Lynda Nelson, who purchased Nui Kai a couple years ago.

Nui Kai will be one of a number of empty storefronts in the heart of downtown Medford.

Ebb and Flow of a Changing Downtown

While Diane Bentley Raymond, the Heart of Medford Association's Executive Director says it's sad to see a business go under, she said it's part of the ebb and flow of a changing downtown.

"The reality is part of revitalizing any downtown is [...] there are some businesses that don't survive and there are certain businesses that come in and do well."

However, even with empty storefronts scattering the downtown area, there are high hopes for 2014.

"There's good things on the horizon," began Raymond.

"I think 2014 is a year for looking forward to solutions for creating the vibrant downtown we all want to see," she continued.

According to Raymond, for every business that closes, two or three more open up.

"Just in the last month I can think of several. We have a new coffee shop, Limestone Coffee. We have the Whiskey Room. We have a new Mexican restaurant. So we've got businesses popping up all the time."

A Call for Businesses to Set Up Shop in Medford

Raymond said business owners should consider moving to Medford.

"Right now we have the Commons which is a wonderful new central gathering place for our community. We have One West Main just down the street which will bring another 200+ employees to the downtown district," she said.

Raymond also said she's noticed a new trend: younger business owners are choosing Medford to set up shop.

One person we spoke with said they're noticing the changes.

"I feel like it's currently growing quite a bit," began Ashland resident Evan Wilson, who frequently visits Medford.

"Especially in the night life and food areas which is exciting to see happen," he continued.

A Business That Has Stood the Test of Time

In the midst of all the changes, Lawrence's Jewelers still remains in business after roughly 105 years in Medford. Store Manager Gail Stroud was saddened to hear about Nui Kai going out of business.

"I'd like to see businesses thrive enough that they become generational like our business has been to where people support you because their grandparents supported you," said Stroud.

She added Nui Kai's closure could hurt some businesses.

"It ceases to draw the people they were drawing. If they were wanderers and chose to wander through other stores, that obviously affects us," she said.

However, because Lawrence's Jewelers sells different items than Nui Kai, Stroud said she doesn't think the store's closure will directly impact them much if at all.

A New Idea to Fund Downtown Revival

The Heart of Medford Association says they're working on a sustainable way to fund improvements to the downtown area that will attract more people.

Their idea involves creating an economic improvement district where property owners pay money to help make the downtown corridor a more vibrant place.

"We're working on an economic improvement district which is a sustainable funding way to do the things that a downtown district needs to have like holiday lights, things that when you come downtown you want to see excitement, you want to see festivities. You want to see activities going on," said Raymond.

She said last year the Heart of Medford Association tried for the first time to develop an economic improvement district. The city council approved it to move forward, but it eventually failed by 3%.

In 3-4 months, she said they plan to approach the Medford City Council one more time. The Council is expected to either approve it or not. If approved, a letter would get sent out to property owners within the district limits informing them about a hearing. Property owners could then attend the hearing or if they are against the idea, can also send in an objection letter by a certain deadline. If there's 33% or less who object, the idea moves forward. Then another hearing is held 30-days later. If 33% or less object, then the economic improvement district is formed.

The downtown district would extend roughly from Bear Creek to Oakdale and from 10th to 4th streets. 

"We see them succeed in Portland, Bend, McMinnville, all of the closest downtown districts closest to us we've seen great success with. So we're not reinventing the wheel," said Raymond.

In the meantime, people like Evan Wilson are keeping their eyes peeled for new businesses to crop up where others have gone under.

"Hopefully it's something that will contribute to the revival that's slowly taking a hold here," said Wilson.

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