April 16, 2015

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners took a historic step forward by selecting the future site for the central courthouse. The board unanimously voted to approve the county-owned Hawthorne Bridgehead as the site, setting the stage for next steps in the critical project.  The site is bordered by SW Naito Parkway, SW Madison, SW 1st Ave., and SW Jefferson. 

“This is a big day. It’s been the result of a lot of work,” said County Attorney Ken Elliott. “There are no fatal flaws on either the prefered or alternate site. The team is sticking with the recommendation to continue with the prefered site Hawthorne Bridgehead block eight.”   

The decision comes after county leaders in December approved the courthouse project team’s recommendation of the Hawthorne Bridgehead as the preferred-site and block 128, (parking lot between the KOIN Tower and Marriot Hotel) as an alternate. Since then, extensive due diligence including environmental, geotechnical and traffic studies on both sites were performed. 

The due diligence included a summary of stakeholder and public outreach collected from an online survey, two open houses, and interviews. 

Conceptual image of Hawthorne Bridgehead, future site of central courthouse

“This is an exciting step that we’re taking with full engagement of the community and of this board,” said Commissioner Judy Shiprack. “We are taking logical, incremental steps to replace the downtown courthouse.”

Thursday’s decision is over four decades in the making and comes with well-documented research on the safety concerns of the current courthouse.  Over a century’s worth of use coupled with a growing population has presented challenges for the aged structure.  The building doesn’t meet current seismic codes. There are also serious security concerns for the courts and the public, given the courthouse’s limitations on separating criminal defendants from judges and witnesses.

“We know that over 600,000 people a year are in and out of a courthouse that is structurally and functionally obsolete, that would not withstand the stresses of what is anticipated to be a major subduction earthquake,” said Shiprack. “This is good work. I’m proud of my colleagues and delighted that you’re bringing this to us today.”

Board of Commissioners at Thursday's meeting

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury noted the building momentum of the multi-million dollar project and commended the Oregon Legislature’s initiative as 50/50 funding partners. 

“Representative Jennifer Williams and Speaker Tina Kotek have been exceptionally and extraordinarily dedicated to make sure we are here today,” said Kafoury.

“I think, like many people, I was hesitant at first [about the site] because change is difficult,” said Kafoury.  “The possibilities of this building, the symbol and what it means for our community, that’s what’s exciting to me. So I am very much looking forward to this next stage, where we choose our partners in building this amazing building.”

The decision allows the project team to begin the process of selecting architectural and engineering design services and a construction manager/general contractor (CM/GC) for the project. The county will issue requests for proposals for architectural and engineering services on or after April 17 and requests for proposals a CM/GC on or after May 1.   

Construction is slated to begin in 2017 and a functional courthouse is expected to open by 2020.