Sunday, April 28, 2013

MURA Facade Program-The Big Finish

About 10 years ago Medford Urban Renewal Agency asked us to help re-design a proposed awning at a new restaurant facing the railroad tracks.  It wasn't much, an industrial style corrugated metal feature that transformed a former loading dock into an outdoor seating area.  But it worked, and from that MURA developed what began as an awning and paint program.  If a property owner wanted to improve their property in that way, the agency would pay 50% of the costs, up to several thousand dollars.

Well, pretty quickly owners found all sorts of other ways that they wished to improve their properties.  MURA expanded and renamed the program as the Facade Improvement Program, up-ing the available, one-time, match to $17.5K.  I, mostly through inertia, stayed on as the designer, working with owners to come up with suitable projects, developing the design, and then helping the contractor during the construction phase.  We did a "landmark" business.  We started bringing neon signs back to downtown, and established a "MURA standard" approach to awnings.  We demolished bad 1960s blocked-in storefronts at bars and returned pedestrian friendly glass and bulkheads, often with tile, to the street.  Over the next 5-6 years something like EIGHTY separate projects took advantage, including the former Joseph Winans Furniture Building, Lawrence's Jewelers, the ACME Hardware Building, The Fluhrer Bakery Building (with its cool painted sign), Mellello's Coffee (on Holly), The Central Fire Hall, Woolworths, Habaneros, the Palm-Goldy Building and many many more.  And people noticed too. Medford's annual historic preservation award almost always goes to a Facade project  and the innovative MURA Facade Program was awarded the John Howland Gold Medal by the National League of Cities several years ago.  The MURA program has served as a model for numerous others, including local examples in both Talent and Phoenix (for whom we are also the designer).

Back in Medford, for a short period,the program went away, as MURA concentrated on other things but the push back from property owners was pretty high.  When MURA was re-organized by the City, they brought it back as the Facade Improvement Grant Program, and expanded it again, this time to include structural upgrade and removing the limit on re-applications and raising the match to $100K per property.  The Holly Theatre and the Sparta Building are probably the best examples of the transformations that occurred under this program.  Then, with the economic downturn, much of the activity elsewhere in downtown Medford slowed and the funding was not being used as quickly as MURA hoped.

As MURA moves into its final phase, the push to identify facade projects was on, before the program goes away in the next fiscal year.  And I am pleased to say that the Medford's business community has responded with vigor.  In the past month we've opened files on a half-dozen or more projects, including some really exciting ones like a car-lot turned tavern/eatery, a restored non-profit, some 2nd floor residential conversions, a brew pub, a coffee shop, and a storefront re-do, several of which will bring new life to buildings that have been vacant for years!  Almost all of these projects have the potential to transform former eyesores (or unnoticed buildings) into something special. 

As it nears the end of its run, the award-winning Medford Urban Renewal Agency Facade Improvement Grants can look back at having touched more than 100 individual properties in downtown.  Not a bad investment and one that MURA should be proud of.  I know that I am.

1 comment:

  1. Hi................

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