Moving the Pieces of the Puzzle

A better plan for the County Courthouse and City Hall

You know those puzzles where you push one piece out of the way in order to place another?

It all started out by pushing the old block-sized Eugene City Hall out of the way to make way for the new. Putting a new four-story, 30,000 square foot City Hall on the southwest corner quarter of that old block left behind three quarters of a blank block to fill. The plan was to reserve the northwest quarter behind the proposed new City Hall for a future Phase II, 60,000 square foot City Office building so that the city would eventually occupy the whole western half of the block, leaving the eastern half open for another use.

So what might one do with that other open half a block of land downtown?

Enter the “switch.” Lane County could have the eastern half of the old City Hall block for a new Lane County Courthouse. In trade, the city would receive the lost North Park Block and the half block of land along 7th Avenue buried for the past 50 years under the “butterfly” parking lot. That in turn would make possible a restored North Park Block and expanded site for the Saturday and Farmers Markets, including the possibility of an indoor market building. So what was not to like?

From the county point of view, it made much better sense to build the new County Courthouse on the western side of the now open block so it could better continue to connect to its Public Services Building. But that would move the proposed new City Hall building further down 8th Avenue to the corner of 8th and High. The Phase II City Office Building meant to consolidate city services would then end up behind it on the corner of 7th and High Street — no one’s first choice location for downtown central city services.

And how far out was the County Courthouse project — five years? And what were the realistic prospects that the city would ever build its Phase II office building behind the new City Hall anyway? The cost of the 30,000 square foot Phase I building has already climbed from $15 million to a controversial $25 million. A Phase II 60,000 square foot office building could be expected to cost at least twice that much or more by the time it got built.

Enter a different switch?

New planning has shown that a new consolidated County Courthouse will need to be 250,000 square feet and that a best configuration and fit would require the entire vacated City Hall block. But where, then, would the new City Hall building go? Building the large new County Courthouse on the butterfly site would be a possibility, but that would foreclose forever any North Park Block or Farmers Market aspirations. And it would leave the new City Hall building sitting lonely on its 8th Avenue corner wistfully awaiting a Phase II and some other compatible use that might never come.

The answer to the puzzle:

The county gets the whole block of the old City Hall site. The city moves its four-story, 30,000 square foot City Hall to the one-half block site at north end of the butterfly parking lot along 7th Avenue. The old 60,000 square foot (four floors of 15,000 square feet) County Courthouse is in time remodeled (and its steel frame upgraded to present-day seismic requirements) for one-quarter of the cost of a new Phase II City office building. And, if desired, the two city buildings could be connected by a skyway over Oak Street.

The North Park Block is restored and becomes the home of a long-awaited improved market environment. For the next several years, the county plants solar-collecting trees and parks on its warehoused block, and with the best of good fortune has a brand new building in place when the world comes to visit in 2021.

Because it no longer needs to be courthouse secure, the whole Oak Street side of the Public Services Building is opened up to the Park Blocks, igniting the process of turning the Park Blocks’ buildings’ backsides into front sides all around.

The new City Hall sits poised above its restored Park Block and Market civic center.

And we all lived happily ever after.