Multnomah County is two years away from opening a brand-new courthouse in downtown Portland. You've probably seen the shiny new building sprouting up at SW 1st and Madison, just a few blocks from the current courthouse on Lownsdale Square. The relocation comes as a relief for staff who have long bemoaned the 100-year-old courthouse for its unconventional, mismatched courtrooms and unnecessary reliance on marble. But the move also leaves county leaders with a new problem: What should become of the leftover colossal 8-story, 292,717-square-foot stone building?
This summer, Multnomah County asked for public input on this chin-scratcher. Over the 60-day comment period, a paltry 21 people submitted suggestions. A few of the highlights:
- "Salvage interior, demolish the building and build an affordable housing high rise."
- "House the homeless. With safe injection sites and a clinic."
- "I think it's important to keep the land available for government use and expansion. It's a really symbolic area of Portland, with local and federal government offices side-by-side with park space."
- "Ultimately, it should be absolutely clear that whatever is done with the building provides maximum impact to low-income communities of color."
- "The old courthouse should be demolished! A new courthouse is already under construction! Don't waste money on saving the old courthouse!"
Despite collecting these impassioned ideas, it looks like the county's leaving this answer up to a private developer. On September 20, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners will consider selling the ancient building to a private real estate company called NBP Capital for $28 million. According to county spokesperson Mike Pullen, NBP plans to "preserve and renovate" the courthouse. It's unclear if that includes putting a safe injection site or a McMenamins inside its marble walls.
Since the courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic places, any changes to the building's exterior—or its complete demolition—requires a city council vote. Which means, regardless of whether or not the county board votes in favor of selling the property, we won't see any substantive changes to the courthouse for a while.