Top pick for City Hall in question: Eugene OR Register-Guard, 4/7/07

By Edward Russo

A reluctant property owner may force the Eugene City Council to change direction and pick the present City Hall site for a new government headquarters.

Downtown property owner Ada Lee told city officials in a letter last month and in an e-mail last week that she is unwilling to sell her Rock N Rodeo nightclub property. Her land would be needed for a new City Hall at Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street, across from the Hult Center for Performing Arts and Hilton Eugene and Convention Center.

Lee told Mayor Kitty Piercy and the City Council that she does not want to sell her property because she has plans to "upgrade" her single-story building with a four-story commercial structure that would be "more compatible" with the Hult Center and Hilton Eugene.

The city can use its power of eminent domain to buy property from unwilling sellers, but two councilors interviewed Friday said they would be uncomfortable doing that to Lee.

Last December, a five-councilor majority ordered schematic designs for the L-shaped new City Hall building site that would include Lee's property, those of two other private property owners and a two-level parking lot owned by Lane County.

Three councilors preferred plans for a new City Hall on its present site, at East Eighth Avenue and Pearl Street.

With Lee's reluctance to sell, the present City Hall block may rise to be the top choice.

Mayor Kitty Piercy said the council in the coming weeks will discuss what to do. But the city has other building site options, "such as the one I'm standing in," she said, referring to the present City Hall.

City leaders want to replace the 43-year-old, pillar-supported City Hall because it is considered vulnerable to earthquakes and too small for current and future needs of city government, which has offices scattered throughout downtown.

A new City Hall could cost as much as $130 million. City leaders figure that a voter-approved bond measure would be needed to pay for much of it, perhaps in 2008.

The city already has spent more than a year and $1 million to analyze 26 downtown sites and various ideas for a new City Hall. The next planning phase, to be done by September, is expected to cost another $1 million.

Council President Andrea Ortiz said the city should continue planning even though the council's first choice may be unavailable.

Councilor George Poling last fall warned city staff to make sure that all property owners were willing sellers before proceeding too far with plans.

On Friday, he said he would oppose using eminent domain against Lee.

"I think it would be a mistake to force anybody to sell," he said. "Look at the resistance we met last year when eminent domain was mentioned as part of the Connor and Woolley downtown development project."

There are advantages to building on the present City Hall block, Poling said, "especially when we have the property available to us free and clear."

"Granted, it will cost us money to tear down City Hall and build a new one," he said. "But in the long run it's our only option right now."

Ortiz said she would be uneasy pursuing eminent domain against Lee. "You would have to sell me on condemning her property," she said. "There are a lot of options downtown."

Eugene OR Register-Guard: http://www.registerguard.com