On September 8, in a 5-3 vote the council approved a motion to direct the City Manager to return to the Council with a concept plan for City Hall and proposed financial strategy.
Councilors Clark, Brown, Solomon, Poling and Pryor passed the motion with Councilors Ortiz, Zelenka (attending the meeting by phone) and Taylor opposed.
Mayor Piercy said it quite succinctly, “People who watch don’t know what we all think we know.” Well, perhaps the time is right for us all to come up to speed. At least to do so on one pressing issue.
Just ask anybody, Eugene’s iconic City Hall is going to be flattened. While there are lots of ideas as to exactly when and how and why, the consensus is that it’s gonna happen sooner than later. It may be by the Hand of God via earthquake or at the hands of Man via the wrecking ball. It may be next week or maybe not until next decade. It may be because it’s outlived its useful function or that it’s just plain ugly (and dated). But the fact is, by all accounts it’s on its way out.
The City Council has mercifully been on break for the last three weeks. But, throughout that time (from a seed planted many years before) a notion was incubating that maybe it’s time to possibly start doing something about thinking about perhaps developing a potential action plan regarding the future of City Hall—or not.
Everyone seems to agree that the place is the main contact point that the citizens of Eugene have with the elected officials and city staff. Everyone seems to agree that something has to be done. Everyone seems to agree that any city hall should be at least close to the city’s downtown core. But, beyond that people seem to disagree.
Today, in a 5-3 vote, with Ortiz, Zelenka (who attended the meeting by phone) and Taylor opposed, the Council approved a motion to “Direct the City Manager to return to the Council with a concept plan for City Hall and proposed financial strategy.”
First, hear what the Councilors would like to look at as options for a new facility and then I’ll suggest what we should do.
Option one: Refit the existing building. Councilor Taylor: “I don’t know why we haven’t taken care of all the deficiencies before this time.” Adding that the Fire Department has left and we could use all of the good space, that the Police will soon leave, (but not to a place she approves) and that she hasn’t heard how much space we are currently renting. Councilor Brown: “Don’t throw out the idea of trying to rescue this place…Can we build up from here?”
Option two: Bulldoze and build a new City Hall. Councilor Pryor, “This is the best possible site—we already own it. (if we refit) we will still have a 1964 building…” and, when you build your dream house, “It’s ok to move into a trailer while the new one’s being built.”
Option three: Use the existing EWEB site and refit it to meet City Hall needs at a lower cost than building new. Councilor Clark favors the EWEB building as a future City Hall and wants to impart “more open conversation” regarding the possibility.
Pros and cons exist with each idea, with only option one standing out a purely laughable.
Here’s what we should do:
Allow (as per the motion) the City Manager to research and review the options and financial impacts of each of the second two options (option one has already been worked to death over the years).
Consider obvious questions like: Do we want to move more day-workers out of the central core? Does the EWEB building have an appropriate place for public access to Council Chambers? Is existing transportation infrastructure adequate?
Then, carefully look at how many dollars it would cost ratepayers and /or taxpayers and how great the return on their investment would be. (The ratepayers and taxpayers are actually the same people, but charging higher utility rates is more regressive than having people with more expensive homes foot the bill).
Let the Manager present the plan to the Council, and then let’s do this:
- 1. Plan to demolish the existing structure. (If we don’t, Mother Nature will)
- 2. Itemize the hierarchy of needs for a new City Hall’s functions (not all functions need to be centrally located immediately)
- 3. Lay out a timeline for incremental building of a new City Hall campus on the existing site. (Rebuild incrementally to avoid a one-time big bonding hit)
- 4. Devise a timed financial plan for paying the cost of incremental building (as currently funded bond repayments expire ask taxpayers to switch existing bond repayments to new bonds for City Hall)
- 5. Ask the tax payers if they want to pay for it one step at a time (place it on ballots incrementally)
- 6. Redistribute existing functions of City Hall to temporary homes (Council and City Manager functions in one location, HR in another, Municipal Court another and perhaps Council Chambers in yet another)
- 7. Replace the temporary homes in their permanent homes as they become available. (This will take years, but it will be worth the wait)
- 8. Move fast. (It’s time to put aside “maybe” and “possibly” and “perhaps” and “potentially” and do something now)
- 9. While all this happens, help Mayor Piercy (and future mayors) to make sure we all actually know what we think we know and that anyone watching knows, too.
At the end of this process (and God willing there will be an end) we will have a “hundred year building” that will be a magnificent cornerstone to our fantastic city.
A building that, if we’re lucky, future generations will forget how long it took to plan and build.