Communicable Disease staff at the Multnomah County Health Department.
Why build a new headquarters?

The Multnomah County Health Department serves all 748,000 county residents and is also the largest safety net provider of health care in Oregon with 32 primary care, school-based, dental and specialty clinics.

Multnomah County has sought to leave its current health department headquarters at 426 S.W. Stark for more than a decade. It has outgrown the McCoy Building, built in 1923 as a retail and office space, as well as leased office space in the Lincoln Building at 421 S.W. Lincoln.

Where is the new headquarters?

The proposed development site is located on Northwest Sixth Avenue between Hoyt and Irving streets in Old Town Chinatown. It shares a block with Bud Clark Commons near Portland Union Station. The location is accessible for health department clients and community members and easy to reach by transit.

When will construction begin?

Construction started in February 2017. You can watch the progress 24/7 on a webcam mounted on the Union Station tower.

How can Multnomah County afford a new building?

Because of the location, the county can use $27 million that has been allocated for county facilities within the River District Urban Renewal Area.

What will be in the building?

About 350 health professionals including the Tri-County Health officer, public health nurses, epidemiologists and administrators will report to work there. The building will house the Health Department Director; emergency preparedness and response for public health emergencies; the communicable disease program; a small specialty clinic and pharmacy; the director of integrated clinical services; and the director of nursing.

Where is the project now?

In 2013, the county worked on the proposed site with Home Forward, ZGF Architects and JE Dunn and stakeholders. A six story building was proposed --due to height restrictions. As work progressed with the design of the building, evaluating the site and the configuration of what the department needs both now, and in the future, the limits of the site emerged.

The county learned, for instance, that the proposed six-story building will not provide adequate space. Significant parts of the department would have to be permanently located elsewhere.  In order to accommodate all the Health Department functions, the building will require between 120,000 to 150,000 square feet and be between 105 and 150 feet in height. To accommodate a structure of this size on a site that is less than a half block in size, the City of Portland code would have to be amended to allow a maximum height allowance beyond the current 75 foot limit.

In 2014, newly elected Chair Deborah Kafoury directed that a team to look at how the county could achieve its goals, both at the Block U site next to Bud Clark Commons, as well as on other properties in the River District Urban Renewal Area. Multnomah County’s new board chair, new Health Department director and new Facilities director are now overseeing the project with a  steering committee also includes County Commissioner Diane McKeel and a team from facilities.

At their direction, Multnomah County hired an owner’s representative to manage the project,  a business model used as on the Multnomah County Courthouse project and the Sellwood Bridge Project.

Site near Bud Clark Commons is still feasible

In February,  the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability began reviewing Multnomah County's proposed two changes to the city zoning code to change the building height on Block U from 75 to 105 feet and to allow new development to have the option of earning height bonuses up to 45 feet. In March, county officials met with the Old Town/Chinatown and Pearl District neighborhood association.

On April 28, 2015, the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission held a public hearing on the amendment. The Commission recommended that City Council adopt the proposed height increase. This map amendment would revise the base building height on the proposed Block U site to 105 feet from the current 75 feet. In addition, the area eligible for height bonuses earned through the use of floor area ratio bonuses, which terminates just south of Block U, would be extended to include Block U.

City Council amends map to allow additional height

On June 24, the Portland City Council unanimously voted to amend the city zoning map to increase the maximum height allowed on Block U to 105 feet. In addition, the site is now eligible for height bonuses. This  would allow the county to submit a design review application for a new nine to 10 story building instead of six stories. The project cost will become clearer when the location is confirmed.

What are the next steps?

 County Facilities staff, working with an owners representative, will be working on design, intergovernmental agreements and budget.