Saturday, October 22, 2016

Coordinated Downtown Development

AIA-SWO mini-charrette during the October 19, 2016 chapter meeting (my photo)
AIA-Southwestern Oregon members gathered last Wednesday at the FertiLab Thinkubator to learn more about efforts by the City of Eugene and Lane County to coordinate future downtown development of public facilities they own and operate. Currently under consideration are the fate of the new City Hall, a new and larger Lane County Courthouse, and a year-round farmers’ market. The two agencies recently formed a joint task force to evaluate options for siting these major downtown facilities and public spaces. 

The task force composed a charter statement to guide its efforts: 

“The City of Eugene and Lane County share a common value to provide the best possible service to our communities in ways that make efficient use of public resources. We have before us the opportunity to collaborate on the creation of a truly great civic center that serves Eugene and Lane County for decades to come.” 

The City and County jointly selected Cameron McCarthy Landscape Architecture and Planning as the consultant for the coordinated downtown development study. Cameron McCarthy’s mandate is to identify and evaluate options to help the City and County determine which strategy will best address their separate and mutual needs while working toward their shared goal of creating a “truly great civic center.” 

Larry Gilbert, ASLA, principal at Cameron McCarthy, leads the consultant team, which also includes Jim Robertson, FAIA, FCSI of Robertson/Sherwood/Architects (the firm I work for). Larry began his presentation at the AIA-SWO meeting by providing background information about the study. The new Eugene City Hall saga is well-known by most. That project’s spiraling costs no doubt prompted City Council’s willingness to work with the County to look at possibly more cost-effective alternatives. The existing, aging Lane County Courthouse suffers from numerous deficiencies relative to present-day standards, notably with respect to space, security, and efficiency, and requires either substantial modernization or replacement. The future of the farmer’s market is in play because its current location, the county-owned “butterfly” parking lot is one of the parcels involved in the study. 

Larry described the program areas for each of the study components; they are as follows: 

Eugene City Hall – Phase 1: 35,000 GSF
  • Council Chambers
  • Council Work Session Room
  • Mayor and Council Offices
  • City Manager’s Office 
Parking, Secure: 7,000 GSF (20 Spaces) 

Eugene City Hall – Phase 2: 115,000 GSF 
  • Public Works 
  • Planning & Development 
  • Information Services 
  • Human Resources & Risk Services 
  • Finance & Central Services 
Parking, Secure: None 

Eugene Municipal /Community Court:  20,000 GSF 
  • Municipal Court 
Parking, Secure:  8,400 GSF (24 Spaces) 

Lane County Courthouse: 240,034 GSF 
  • Courts 
  • Courts Administration 
  • Sherriff Transport & Holding 
  • Sheriff Main Offices 
  • Parole & Probation 
  • District Attorney Offices 
  • State Offices 
Parking, Secure:  24,500 GSF (70 Spaces) 

Lane County Farmers Market (covered area):  9,000 GSF 
  • Vending Spaces: 30 
  • Restrooms 
  • Storage 
Lane County Farmers Market (outdoor space):  39,000 GSF 
  • Vending Spaces: 90 
  • Bike Parking 
  • Landscaping 
Based on the programmatic needs, Larry’s team initially developed twelve different options or models. It subsequently distilled the number of siting options for City Hall, the County Courthouse, and the Farmers’ Market down to six possible configurations, which the public (including AIA-SWO) have been asked to comment upon. The Register-Guard provided a detailed summary of the configurations, which I’ve simply repeated here: 

Option A1:
Remodel the existing courthouse for use by the district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices and build a new courthouse on the county-owned “butterfly” parking lot across Oak Street. A skybridge would connect the two buildings. On the vacant City Hall block at Eighth Avenue and Pearl Street, the Phase 2 City Hall would take up its northern half, the Phase 1 City Hall would be built on the empty lot’s southwest corner, and the farmer’s market would be constructed on the southeast corner. 

Option A2:
Consolidate the courthouse, district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices in one new nine-story building—it would be the tallest in downtown—on the butterfly lot. The existing courthouse would be preserved for county government operations. On the vacant City Hall block, the Phase 2 City Hall would be two buildings constructed on the northern half of the lot, and the Phase 1 City Hall and farmers’ market would swap places on the lot’s southern half.

Option B1:
Build the county courthouse and Phase 1 City Hall on the vacant City Hall block. The district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices take up the entire existing courthouse, and a very long skybridge would connect it to the new courthouse. Phase 2 City Hall would be constructed south of Eighth Avenue along Pearl Street. On the butterfly lot, the farmer’s market would operate on its southern half, and a new mixed-use building would be built on its northern half. 

Option B2:
The county courthouse with sheriff and district attorney functions would be built on the vacant City Hall block, wrapping around Phase 1 City Hall. The Phase 2 City Hall would be divided between two buildings by renovating the existing courthouse and constructing a second building across Oak from it on the northern half of the butterfly lot. The farmers’ market would occupy the lot’s second half. 

Option C1:
The new county courthouse and all associated functions would take up the entire vacant City Hall block. Phase 1 City Hall would be built on the butterfly lot’s northern half with the farmers’ market occupying the southern half. (The city and county are seeking an expedited court ruling on whether city founder Eugene Skinner’s 1855 deed to the county prevents a City Hall from being constructed on the butterfly lot.) Phase 2 City Hall would be divided between a renovated existing courthouse and the Wells Fargo building, where the city currently leases office space, so city services would be spread out in a campus environment with the Park Blocks at its center. 

Option C2:
The new county courthouse and all associated functions would take up the entire vacant City Hall block. The farmers’ market would be built on the southern half of the butterfly lot. In another variation of a city campus concept, Phase 1 City Hall would be built on the butterfly lot’s northern half with another floor—the fifth—added for Phase 2 offices. A new Phase 2 city office building would be constructed on the location of the existing courthouse. 

Each of these scenarios is still preliminary in nature, which is why input from groups like AIA-SWO remains important. Larry facilitated a mini-charrette during Wednesday’s meeting to ensure that ideas, or problems with ideas, are not overlooked before presenting a final slate of options to the elected officials and the public. The charrette was energetic and enjoyable, and did generate some inspired concepts for the consultant team to consider. 

The joint task force directed the consultant team to ultimately settle upon three concepts, so the six versions Larry presented will further be narrowed by half. He did say the final coordinated downtown development study will not single out a preferred option. Instead, the point of the study is to provide the joint task force with the information it needs to identify the concept it prefers to see implemented. Toward this end, the study will ultimately address questions about cost, context, transportation impact, and additional work required. 

Which option do I prefer? I have a preference but I’ll defer saying anything until after the report is finalized. 

Of course, notably absent from the scope of the study is the renewed possibility of EWEB offering its current administrative headquarters building on the Willamette riverfront to the City of Eugene for adaptation as a new City Hall. The City is not ignoring that possibility but is simply also exploring the potential of a collaboration and possible land swap with Lane County. 

Notably, some city council members have expressed reluctance with the prospect of delaying construction of the new, ceremonial City Hall as most recently planned. They would rather proceed with that design as soon as possible despite the opportunities inherent in a collaboration with the county or a purchase from EWEB of its building. I personally believe not considering all options on the table (especially when they’ve presented themselves so serendipitously) would be shortsighted, so I wholeheartedly support taking this step back. 

There will be one more opportunity for the public to comment upon the six coordinated development options before Larry’s team reduces that number to the three the joint task force will deliberate upon. The City and County are hosting a community open house on Wednesday, November 2 from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM at Harris Hall, 125 East Eighth Avenue. For more meeting information, or if you don’t think you’ll be able to attend the open house, provide your comments online at

Big thanks to Larry for providing such an informative presentation. Thanks too to the elected representatives and members of the joint task force who recognize the opportunities inherent in developing an equitably beneficial and collaborative vision. This is a momentous time for downtown Eugene. The decisions that will be made now are critical. They require considerable thoughtfulness and imagination. There is simply too much at stake that will impact the future of Eugene for too many years to come.

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