New 'gateway' for Ashland planned

Duane Smith owns the Lithia Springs Inn on West Jackson Road near Highway 99 and exit 19. Guests of the Inn, he said, are always asking, "We've seen Lithia Park, what else is there?"

Rather than sending tourists to the scattered wineries around the area, as he currently does, he wants to bring the wineries to the tourists of Ashland.

A 5,000-square-foot wine and cheese pavilion would be the flagship of a proposed development Smith filed recently with Jackson County. He is calling it the Village at Lithia Springs and wants it to function as "a new gateway to Ashland."

If approved by the county's planning process, the complex would include 20 new buildings next to the Lithia Springs Inn, three restaurants, an upscale country store, a "whole foods-like market," amenities for tourists and perhaps even condominiums, depending on what land-use laws allow.

The complex will cost Smith and his Portland partner, an engineer who helped design the beltway and the airport around Denver, Colo., between $12 million and $15 million, he said. He hopes to begin construction sometime next year and be "roaring to go by the summer of 2009."

The proposal has the look of a small Oregon city, which is by design. He said it was modeled to look like the downtowns of Ashland, Silverton and Grants Pass, which feature historical two-story buildings.

"I've always loved this end of town," said Smith, who bought his land near exit 19 in 1974. "I've always seen what could be instead of what was."

The wine and cheese pavilion is to be called "A Taste of Oregon" and would be a place where regional and statewide producers could showcase their creations for tourists traveling into Ashland.

"We're looking at something that would service the upscale Ashland tourists," Smith said.

He said he would prefer to fill the pavilion with local wineries, but added that many vintners from the Portland and Willamette Valley areas seem to be more excited by the idea.

"We want to be as much Southern Oregon as possible," Smith said. "But over the course of the last 10 or 15 years we've had a lot of vineyard and winery people from the Portland area eager to have someone represent them down here."

As the centerpiece of the development, the wine and cheese pavilion will face Highway 99. Smith recently bought the land that housed Mr. C's convenience store and El Tapatio Mexican restaurant to build the pavilion. Smith said store owner Dan Claughlin will open a "high-end country store" in the village. El Tapatio will move later this year to another new development Smith is creating south of this development on Highway 99. The village-like buildings will be located behind that wine and cheese pavilion.

Upstairs of the village-like buildings will be lodging accommodations, which could eventually turn into condominiums. "In the future, if the zoning allows, some of the second floors would become condos," he said.

As well as appealing to tourists, Smith would also like to attract locals.

For the locals, he hopes to be able to provide a natural foods store, something like a Whole Foods Market, only smaller. He also said there will be at least three restaurants.

"I've approached several in Ashland," he said. "Our preference is to work with the best businesses in Ashland that want to expand."

Smith's project comes on the cusp of the Oregon Department of Transportation redesigning the interchange at exit 19. He said he is confident the new interchange will align West Jackson Road, the road behind Mr. C's where the Lithia Springs Inn is located, with South Valley View Road, the road that leads to the freeway exit.

If it doesn't work out that way, Smith said he has designed his project to work in either scenario.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or .

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