Thursday, November 29, 2012

Greyhound Bus Portal- A Missed Opportunity

Well, I wrote earlier about the “portal” arch at the former Greyhound Bus Depot in downtown Medford and the fact that its future is undecided.  No more.  At noon today the Medford Urban Renewal Agency (MURA) board voted 6-3 to request the arch be demolished and replaced with a plaque. That request will be forwarded to the City’s Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission but the reality is that all they can do is delay demolition for 120-days.  MURA Board members talked about their lack of affection for the arch and their concern that the cost of saving it was too high, though nobody really knows what it will cost to save.  The “ballpark” figure being bandied about is $50K. 

I wrote a Guest Opinion in the local paper MT attempting to point out the value in keeping this as a part of the city’s downtown, what it takes to make a great urban place, and the value of retaining context among things.  While several of the board (even several that voted against) were quite complimentary about what we had to say, it obviously wasn’t enough to convince them.  It appears that what was really going on here was an unfortunate competition between saving the arch and building a seasonal ice skating rink that has come out of the blue as the holy grail of crowd attraction to the downtown.  Too bad.  I would like to personally thank Mayor Gary Wheeler, and Councillors Greg Jones and Karen Blair for their votes.  I wish they could have brought along some of their fellows.

From the testimony, and the comments, I think that many of the board were uncomfortable with this decision.  Some of their opposition stems from what might be characterized as anti-Mid Century Modern sensibilities, others from structural unknowables (the format doesn’t really allow much information sharing at the meeting and who knows what happened before it got to this point), but in the end it was mostly about money.  After having spent $14 million of public money, much of it for property acquisition, building demolition, infrastructure and other costs related to The Commons project and Lithia’s new corporate headquarters (a building strikingly reminiscent, frankly, of the tile-clad, angular, mass of the Greyhound Depot), spending $50K on this public amenity within the two blocks of public park land was deemed excessive.  Restoration of the Greyhound Arch was originally offered as what amounted to “mitigation” for the destruction of multiple historic buildings to allow for the construction of The Commons several years ago. This would involve re-installing the 'Greyhound" channel letters at the top and the cleaning and repair of the mottled green ceramic wall tiles, all to serve as "gateway" of sorts to the park.  It would have been cool.  Now, backing away from even that token effort, the Board is proposing to offset this loss with a plaque.  Why bother?

A few days ago I had hope that "vision will out."  It didn't.  Medford is great town, with a great history.  Over recent years they have gotten much better about embracing that and seeing the potential history offers in creating vibrant, interesting and enjoyable urban spaces.  Not so today.  This decision to remove the Greyhound Bus Depot portal is a mistake.  A seasonal ice rink, if they ever even build that, won’t make it right.  With or without a plaque.

ADDED 12/5Although it appears unlikely this will even happen, below is the rendering that was submitted to show the restored, completed, Greyhound Arch.  I still think MURA is making a big mistake but apparently that is a minority opinion.  


  1. This is an interesting site documenting Greyhound depots of Oregon, including several photos of Medford's in better days.

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