Downtown plan shows need for more work
When it was formed, the Park Project Working Committee had a fairly straightforward mission.
The members were charged to come up with something to do with the gravel lot that was left after the city tore down the old laundromat building at the corner of State Street and Wisconsin Avenue. The building was demolished primarily for the lot to be used as a staging area for the State Street bridge project.
At the time the special committee was set up, council members knew that whatever was to be done at the site needed to tie into the rest of the downtown and approved hiring an engineer to work with the committee members to develop ideas.
The preliminary plans that have been shared with the city council show a grand multi-million dollar vision of transforming a downtown parking lot into a destination space outfitted with entry arches, water features, a beer garden, fire pits, performance spaces and meandering paths. About the only thing the draft plans didn’t address was to actually do anything with the vacant lot that prompted the process. The preliminary design puts a placeholder there for some “future cafe/ recreational rentals” with the idea that in the interim the city might welcome a food truck parking there giving the brick and mortar downtown eating spots more competition.
The proposed design has a lot to offer. If Medford was a Madison, Milwaukee, or Minneapolis suburb, they might actually even see the light of day or if built, might actually get used.
This is not to say that the plan is a bad one or that the process to this point has been a waste. Far from it, visions and dreams must start out grand and sweeping so that when the financial and political realities chip away to bring about something that is practical and possible, the bones of that vision are still there.
In order to bring any vision to reality, area residents must be able to take ownership of it as being something important to the community and the people who live here. The challenge in the Medford project at this point is that it has been unclear how much of the vision is that of the engineer hired to help with the process and how much the input of the committee members has come through. It is also disappointing that the fundamental question of what to do with a vacant lot has been left in the margins to be addressed at some time in the future.
There is a lot to like about the plans. If the city had an unlimited budget and no other pressing needs, the $3.4 million price tag to make it happen might seem more palatable.
Dreams have their place, but with finite resources and the critical need for housing in order to attract people to the community, the city must prioritize balancing what is wanted with what is needed.
Committee members should be commended for the work they have done so far and the outside help has been a valuable part of the process. Committee members should continue to refine the vision into a practical community-based plan.