On Thursday, Dec. 18 the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved preliminary plans and site selection recommendations for the central courthouse project.
The approval directs the project team to perform a deeper analysis of the preferred, county-owned Hawthorne bridgehead south block site. And, in addition, to also analyze Block 128, the parking lot between the KOIN Tower and the Marriott Hotel, as an alternative.
At Thursday’s meeting, Chair Deborah Kafoury emphasized the vote was an important step but not the final vote in securing a permanent location for the new central courthouse.
“I want to thank all of the citizens who’ve come today to share their comments about the site selection for the new courthouse,” said Chair Kafoury. “This vote today is not a vote to close the VQ [Veritable Quandary restaurant, which is adjacent to the preferred site]. We are here to listen and we will continue to solicit community input as we work together to replace our downtown courthouse.”
Multnomah County has been working to replace the 1909 courthouse, which experts say will collapse in a strong earthquake and is functionally obsolete. County residents - who are compelled to appear at the courthouse for legal reasons - visit the courthouse more than 600,000 times a year. Because of the building’s age and configuration, judges and jurors, prisoners and crime victims must all share the same elevators and walkways.
At the Dec. 18 board meeting, the county’s courthouse project team described how a diverse team of designers, stakeholders, legislators and engineers were chosen and performed a rigorous site selection process. The group considered 17 topics with 70 total criteria while narrowing down which site would best serve.
“One thousand points were developed as part of that scoring criteria,” said Mike Day, DAY CPM Services, the county’s owner representative and member of the project team. “The cost component for land acquisition was really a small part.”
Among the many factors considered for the future courthouse site were how the court would function at that site, access to transit, risk factors, the regulatory and land-use process to secure the site, and access to the tunnel easement from the Justice Center, which could be used to transport prisoners efficiently and securely.
The board voted to proceed with the preferred site and the back-up site after more than two hours of public testimony from judges, lawmakers, business owners and employees, and other members of the community offering opinions on the pending resolution.
The commissioners expressed their commitment to do greater public involvement before the final site selection decision in 2015 and to work with adjacent property owners and businesses to address concerns as much as possible.
"This is the opening bell, for a very public process,” said Commissioner Judy Shiprack. “This will be a joint vision going forward.”
In early 2015, the board will make a decision on the best method for procurement. A final site is slated for approval in the spring. Groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for late 2016.
On Thursday, Jan. 29 and Thursday, Feb. 5 Multnomah County will host an open house where community members can share their opinions or views on the courthouse project. The Jan. 29 meeting will take place in the board room of the Multnomah Building, 501 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., Portland from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The Feb. 5 meeting will take place in the main jury room (Room #130) of the county courthouse, 1021 S.W. 4th Ave., Portland from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.