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Thursday, May 1, 2014

One Place a New County Courthouse Won't Be Built: The Site Where Officials Have Secured Millions to Put It

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Thu, May 1, 2014 at 4:00 PM

Remember yesterday, when we reported that Multnomah County officials are planning on spending $9 million (money it's sat on for the last seven years) to dramatically change the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge? And how that project was originally intended to spiff up some county-owned property in preparation for a long-awaited replacement for the quake-imperiled downtown courthouse?

Turns out the courthouse doesn't have a realistic shot of going there after all. Though a county spokesman said earlier this week the site was still in the running, it appears the bridgehead plot was ruled out some time ago. That's according Julie Neburka, a budget finance director in the Department of County Assets, who gave commissioner a rundown of current funding for the courthouse project at a budget hearing this afternoon.

"It turned out that that was not a big enough site for the building," Neburka said.

So what happens to the $9 million then? Neburka said officials have no idea.

"Do we give that back to the PDC?" she asked. "Do we somehow apply it to this project? It’s just sitting there."

According to the terms of an intergovernmental agreement [pdf] between Multnomah County and the PDC, officials could elect to spend the $9 million to move the ramp anyway, then sell off the property to developers and use proceeds for a courthouse.

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The county is also still trying to find $15 million it needs to match some state money set aside for the project (to say nothing of the millions more that will have to be found in the future). That will likely involve issuing bonds, Neburka said.

Why are we suddenly so interested in the courthouse? It's an enormous undertaking that's going to take some deft political maneuvering, and years of sizable debt obligations, to pull off. And, unlike the similarly huge Sellwood Bridge replacement project, the City of Portland's not signed on to pay big chunk of the cost. Well, except for the $9 million city taxpayers gave the project seven years ago.

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