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As Tualatin considers city hall, public opinion a key concern

Portland suburb has no city hall, but councilors seeking to build one — if voters will approve it.

COURTESY OF THE CITY OF TUALATIN - An artist's rendering depicts a possible future three-story Tualatin City Hall, which would include retail and commercial space, alongside the Lake of the Commons in between Southwest Seneca and Nyberg streets.

Should Tualatin build a new city hall?

That's the question city councilors are hoping residents can answer for them over the next few months.

Consultants and city staff presented the Tualatin City Council with three options for a city hall at a special work session Tuesday, ranging from a dedicated city government building behind the police station to a more multipurpose building, with retail and commercial space, overlooking the Lake of the Commons.

Unusually for a city of its size, Tualatin does not have a city hall. It tore down the closest thing it had — a building where the City Council held its meetings and a couple of departments, as well as the municipal court, were housed — in 2014 to make way for development at the Nyberg Rivers shopping center. Currently, city services are spread throughout a number of buildings in Tualatin, and the City Council usually meets at the Juanita Pohl Center, the city's senior center.

Options vary in cost, capacity

The police station site and a two-story building envisioned at the Tualatin Commons would both accommodate the city government through at least 2025, according to consultant Lisa Petterson. A three-story building at the Commons would accommodate growth beyond 2025, she added.

All three buildings would provide the city with a baseline of slightly more than 30,000 square feet of new office space, but the three-story Commons building would include rental space into which the city could expand as needed.

Both Commons buildings, as conceptualized, would include space for ground-level retail, and the three-story alternative would have commercial and office space available to be leased to businesses or the Washington County government, similar to what is done at Beaverton City Hall. City Manager Sherilyn Lombos said she has spoken with county staff who have confirmed the county is looking at acquiring space in Tigard and Tualatin within the next several years.

The flip side is cost. Any of the three options presented Tuesday would force the city to go out for a bond measure, perhaps as soon as this November. The city's property tax levy, used to pay off municipal bonds, would jump from 24.6 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to between about 42.7 cents per $1,000, for the police station site, and about 53.9 cents per $1,000, for the three-story Commons site, over the next 20 years.

The price tag for a city hall behind the police station is estimated at $18.2 million. The cost for a two-story building at the Commons, including the purchase and demolition of an existing commercial building between Southwest Nyberg and Seneca streets, is an estimated $19.6 million. For a three-story building on the same Commons site, the estimated cost is $22.9 million.

The Commons site's owners would be willing sellers, the council heard, but the city might have to buy out leases or offer some sort of compensation for businesses that would be displaced.

The bond measure would also include funds to remodel the building that houses the Tualatin Public Library and several city offices, expanding library facilities and adding multipurpose rooms that could accommodate up to 200 people in total.

Councilors favor moving forward

City Council President Monique Beikman favored surveying the public to see which of the three options, if any, they would prefer. But she and other councilors suggested many residents either support or oppose a city hall regardless of how much it costs, where it is or what it looks like.

“These three options are incredible,” Beikman said. “I think every single one of them just blow my mind. I think they're awesome. … I would personally vote for any three of those, myself. I understand the need, though. At my household, my husband will not vote for any of them … because it's an increase. He already feels like he pays way too much, and he's not going to pay for it.”

COURTESY OF THE CITY OF TUALATIN - An artist's rendering shows a possible future two-story Tualatin City Hall overlooking the Lake of the Commons, where a commercial building between Southwest Nyberg and Seneca streets is currently sited.

Including Beikman, four of the five on the seven-member council who were present for Tuesday's work session voiced support for building a new city hall. The most emphatic supporter of the bloc was Councilor Joelle Davis, who passionately laid out her case for it.

“If you want to have a story to tell people, part of the story that I would tell is we have some people that are so resistant to building a new city hall — how nice would it be to build one that would take us maybe even 50 years or plus into the future because we have enough space, and we wouldn't have to have this damned argument any more often than we do now?” she asked rhetorically. “What about telling the story about the fact that we're building now at a rate that will cost us far less today to build it than it will in, you know, 20 or 30 years … why don't we think about that story, for a change? Why don't we think about the story that this town has never had a proper, real city hall, and we need that? What about the story that communities all around us have been able, you know, large and small, have been able to pull this kind of thing off, and it hasn't destroyed their cities, and it hasn't wiped everybody out, and they've managed to do it? And they have functional spaces that work really well for them, and I would like to see our community be able to have that.”

Davis and fellow Councilors Frank Bubenik and Ed Truax argued that the current situation is untenable. At a couple of recent, heavily attended council meetings, the audience spilled out of the meeting area, leaving some attendees struggling to view and hear the proceedings. Truax also pointed to the age of some of the city facilities, including the Pohl Center and other buildings located in Tualatin Community Park.

“Those are beginning to become uninhabitable over the next few years, to the point where we don't have that space at all,” Truax said, mentioning problems with asbestos and mold. He added, “I sometimes can't even believe we allow people to go to work in them as they are today, but that's just me.”

Mayor: 'Don't think the public is all that excited'

The only opponent of the proposals at Tuesday's work session was the mayor, Lou Ogden. He framed his opposition as less about the options on the table or whether Tualatin would benefit from having a City Hall as it was about public opinion.

“I think that there isn't a driving force in the community to recognize the need and have the appetite for this — that simple,” Ogden said. “I didn't say it was a bad idea. I didn't say it wouldn't be beautiful. … It would do wonderful things for the Commons, having an additional center of influence there. … I just, I don't think that the public is all that excited about it.”

Ogden's remarks sparked a brief but sharply worded exchange with Davis.

“I think that you are too invested in staying conservative about this,” Davis said. “You have been against this project from the start. You don't believe that this town needs a city hall, and we have outgrown this provincial thinking about it. I'm done with it. That's where I'm at.”

Davis argued that the city can get voters on board if it makes its case for building a city hall “the right way.”

“I really believe that, and I know that you don't,” she told Ogden.

“You don't have to deride me because I have a different opinion,” Ogden shot back. He added, “I'm tired of it.”

While Davis and Truax indicated they favor the three-story Commons option because of its ability to accommodate future growth, the councilors agreed Tuesday not to eliminate any of the three options from consideration yet. Beikman said she thinks supporters of building a city hall behind the police station would be alienated if the council decided to take that option off the table without more public input.

“Let them decide for themselves,” Beikman said.

Lombos said the city's next step will be to present the council with a public engagement plan at its April 25 work session. Consultant Sara Singer estimated a full public involvement process could cost the city between $30,000 and $40,000, but Truax said he is willing to spend the money now to determine whether Tualatin residents have any appetite for approving a bond levy in order to build a city hall.

“I'm not advocating that we agree to put this on … but I'm certainly willing to spend what it costs to find out if it's likely to pass,” he said.

COURTESY OF THE CITY OF TUALATIN - An artist's rendering shows what a future Tualatin City Hall could look like alongside the Tualatin Police Department, across Southwest Tualatin Road and the Portland & Western Railroad tracks from Tualatin Community Park.

By Mark Miller
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