Just Like Old Times

Razing the old City Hall and raising the new

It’s slowly dawning on people who have been busy at other things that our old block-sized City Hall is about to be torn down and replaced by a quarter-block sized structure with a three-quarter block surface parking lot.

I’ve been critical of the process because I think the proposed City Hall is too small, in the wrong place and will force the removal of an historic building that can still be reasonably remodeled and repurposed. Repurposing the old building would preserve a $40+ million public investment in the present structure and its full block of structured parking. Leasing out a renewed, rebuilt and updated building would also go a long way to recovering the $1.2 million yearly cost of renting space for the downtown services now widely distributed around the city.

I’m also critical of the city manager’s and Eugene City Council’s adopted strategy of thinking big but starting out small, using the $11 million on hand, $1 million of which would go to demolition and another $1 million to fill in the site and build the parking lot. The $9 million that’s left buys little more than offices for the manager and council and a rebuilt council chamber. It probably won’t be enough to afford a prudent fourth floor or the solar and other green energy enhancements that everyone expects.

Also problematic is the proposed think-big second phase, which is intended to add a much larger $40 million to $80 million office companion and bring back some of the farmed-out services to a City Hall campus. It seems unlikely ever to be built. And where would that leave us if it is not? Better to try to build a mid-size project from the start on the site above a restored North Park Block with its Farmers and Saturday Market Square and squeeze one more round of life out of our old City Hall.

And speaking of where would that leave us, wouldn’t it be prudent to wait to tear down the present building until there is an actual final design and real bids, not just construction manager cost estimates for its construction? Real project costs can often disappoint and send projects sideways. And if they come in too high, it would then be just like old times downtown with another do over and another sad and empty block.

This looks like a case of too little too early rather than too little too late.