June 26, 2015

The Portland City Council on June 24 cleared the way for construction of a new Multnomah County Health Department Headquarters in Old Town-Chinatown.

In a unanimous vote, the Council amended the city zoning code to increase the maximum base height on a proposed new headquarters from 75 to 105 feet. The amendment also makes the project on eligible for up to 45 additional feet in height bonuses.

Height restrictions on Block U on Northwest Sixth Avenue between NW Hoyt and Irving Street had limited the design of a new headquarters to six stories. With less than half a block to build on -- the block is shared by Transition Projects in the Bud Clark Commons -- the facility would be costlier to construct and would have required the County to permanently house a large number of health employees elsewhere.

The amendment allows the design to reach 10 stories without obstructing the views of the iconic Union Station a block away.

“‘The Health Department touches the life of everyone who lives or visits Multnomah County,’’ Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “This allows us to design and construct a building that will work for the department and for our citizens for the next 80 years.”

An urgent need for a new headquarters

The County has had an urgent need to replace its headquarters in the aging, inefficient and seismically unsound McCoy Building at 426 S.W. Stark. It has also outgrown leased space in the Lincoln Building at 421 S.W. Oak.

In a May 14 letter to the City Council, Katherine Schultz, vice Chair of the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission, voted unanimously to  forward the project for council approval. Testimony from Old Town-Chinatown Community Association and Transition Projects generally favored the plan, which is expected to bring up to 350 jobs to the neighborhood.

The Community Association agreed to negotiate a good neighbor agreement to address other issues including the community amenities, and input during design.

A Multnomah County team, led by Facilities staff and the owner's representative on the project, are working on the next steps including updating intergovernmental agreements and proceeding with determining the design needs, proposed budget, and schedule.