City Council tells Discovery block developers to consider other options

by: OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Last May, when the demolition of the Tiller Hotel could be seen out the window of Troutdales City Hall, it was assumed that the facility would move into the new structure replacing the old hotel. The city has discovered that the rent would be unaffordable.Excitement over talks of moving Troutdale City Hall to leased space in the Marino (Discovery) block development faced a sad reality Tuesday night.

After a work session stretched more than two hours, Troutdale City Council reached a conclusion — “we can’t afford it.”

A new city hall for Troutdale had been a part of the Discovery Block developer’s original proposal in 2007. Developers, which consist of two men from Bremik Construction and a third investor, had promised the Troutdale council first choice to rent in the space.

When numbers were finally crunched, the offer stood at 13,000 square feet with a tentative lease agreement of $28,718 a month.

Nearly finished leveling the east end of the block with plans to move forward quickly, developers needed an answer: Should they expect the city as a tenant of the new development, or not?

Speaking from the council chamber, a room with no windows below the East Historic Highway, City Manager Craig Ward cited obvious needs for a new city hall.

“Current spaces are financially cost efficient, but logistically difficult,” he said.

The city now pays $4,600 a month to lease about the same amount of square footage in multiple locations in Troutdale, dividing city hall’s administration with half of it operating at the top of Cherry Park Road and the rest spread throughout downtown.

Ward said the separation has caused inefficiencies for employees and frustration among citizens. Plus the chamber room is “too tight” and the archive of city documents is running out of room at the City Conference Building on Buxton Road.

While it was clear a city hall working under one roof would be the ideal, Ward and the council had a less clear picture of what kind of space they needed. Despite updating an outdated 1996 space needs assessment and touring six other city halls in the region, Ward said, “We don’t have one great model.”

This posed a challenge when it came to figuring out if the new space in the middle of downtown was the right solution for Troutdale. “More importantly, we don’t have money,” Ward said.

The city can barely afford their monthly rent, he said, “We are hanging on by our teeth.”

And the city can’t depend on projected revenue increases nor ask voters who just passed a bond for the new police department building for money.

“I think we will have to live with what we have now,” Ward warned early on.

Bremik developer Brent Parry and project investor Pat Hamilton, who were asked to attend the session, were understanding of the city’s financial situation.

City hall was an important part of the original concept and revitalization of the city, they said.

The developers were open to other options, such as leasing space for the city to purchase in the future or leasing a smaller amount of space on the second floor, perhaps for a new 3,000 square foot council chamber.

Hamilton reminded the council the city had other assets, like the old police station, which they could sell to him to raise money and reduce rent.

Whatever the council decides, “We kind of need to know soon,” Hamilton said.

Mayor Daoust opened the discussion for public and council comment.

Terry Smoke, owner of downtown Troutdale General Store, disapproved of City Council’s idea to move in across the street and instead, supported the idea of adding more retail.

“A lot of businesses have opened up because of tourism,” he said, “Do you want city hall to be a main feature in downtown?”

Downtown Troutdale business owner Penny Cruise agreed she’d rather see the space be used for retail than a new city hall. She alluded to the town hall visioning workshop where she and others envisioned a more European type street front with cafes, art galleries, eateries with outdoor seating.

Parking was another issue residents and business owners brought up.

Smoke feared city employees would clog up downtown parking. “If I had a perfect scenario of Troutdale,” he said, “City hall should be up next to the police station.”

Ward said 17 extra public parking spaces and one handicap space were included in the Discovery Block design. However, there are 62 city employees.

“Parking is an issue no matter where you go,” Hamilton said. He also made clear the upstairs of the new development would be leased as office space only, not retail.

Councilor Norm Thompson said, “It appears to be better for us to have city hall on the outside of downtown.” He said he’d much rather see parking geared toward retail, not chewed up by a government agency.

Troutdale resident Max Maydew suggested the city could tear down the City Conference Building, which would make an ideal location for city hall next door to the police. Or sell the old city hall site, build a new one, and have the advantage of building on city property versus someone else’s.

Attorney Matt Wand said the city is trying to put the cart before the horse.

“We’ve got to figure out what our need is first,” he said.

Councilor David Ripma, late to the meeting, broke it down by the numbers.

If the city set aside the difference in the present city hall rent ($4,600) and the proposed rent for the new space ($28,800) for 120 months, they will have saved close to $3 million.

He said instead of paying to rent the space every month for $28,800, the money ought to be put toward replacing the old city hall, building a new city hall, or saving for a down payment that can be used as justification for a future bond measure for voters.

On the other hand, Ward said, “It is not out of the realm of possibility to come up with the $300,000 a year (for the new space).” To do that, the city would just have to make drastic cuts, including laying off staff.

The idea seeming preposterous, a majority of the council sided with Ripma.

“David Ripma is absolutely correct,” said Troutdale Councilor Eric Anderson. “When we buy homes, we need a down payment. When we rent, we need a security deposit. To Dave’s point, it is a great opportunity Bremik comes with, but we can’t afford it. We are not ready, but we’ve got to get ready.”

After taking a 10-minute break to talk amongst each other, Mayor Doug Daoust gave the council’s final decision.

“Based on what I’ve heard tonight, we’ve got to cut these guys lose,” he said. The council has more work to do to figure out what exactly they are looking for in a city hall and find a cheaper way to do it, he said.

“City hall and Main Street don’t mix too well,” he said. “They could, but it’s not the most optimal.”

Daoust told developers not to plan on leasing a space for city hall.

“It would be nice to have a big 13,000 square foot new city hall, but what I’m hearing is we are just not there cost-wise,” he said. “We can’t afford it.”

Giddy thoughts of a new city hall had turned to a general state of glum among council members, though, a spark of hope remained.

Maybe they could come up with a different proposal, Hamilton said, but added, “let’s not count on it.”

While the council and developers couldn’t make it work, at least they will remain friends.

“We are not going anywhere,” Parry said. “We want to help you guys however we can. But again, we’ll move forward.”

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