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Keep EWEB Building Publicly Owned (But Not As City Hall)

December 17th, 2018 by dk

I wrote last month about why and how city staff should be situated near the Park Blocks. It would be an appropriate honor of the Park Blocks’ past and a sound investment for Eugene’s future. Our first farmers market opened on that spot over 100 years ago. We have an opportunity to remake the Park Blocks as the beating heart at the center of the city. We should do it.

I didn’t address City Councilor Mike Clark’s long-held preference for moving city offices into the EWEB building along the river, because (as of last month) that that idea had come and gone, and come and gone, and come and gone — but most recently gone.

Now it looks like it will come again before the city council, because EWEB may declare its riverfront headquarters as surplus property. This could force the city to declare within 30 days that it will exercise its right of first refusal to purchase the complex. We should also do that.

I am sympathetic with many of the arguments Clark and others have made. The building was well built and it has been well maintained. Its location is both convenient and symbolic. The site has its own rich history. This riverfront location is a jewel that deserves the city’s investment.

These two buildings must stay publicly owned. But the offices shouldn’t be renovated to house city staff, for three reasons.

First, most people don’t go to city hall very often. They only go there when they have to. Forgive me for repeating myself, but city hall, for most citizens, is the principal’s office. It’s been a good day if you didn’t have to go there. Forcing citizens to pay their fines and fees there would be like hoping for a heart attack because those rooms have the best view at Riverbend. That’s no way for Eugene to “return to the river.”

Second, consider all the better public roles these buildings could fulfill. We need a history museum. We want our own art museum. We deserve a place that tells our region’s story. Visitors deserve to know why we love this place so much. Once we start telling them, we’ll also be reminding ourselves.

Third, there is one function of a traditional city hall that we should consider moving to the EWEB site, but it’s a relatively small one. EWEB’s circular north building would make an excellent city council chamber. That is the only function of city government that actively involves the citizenry on a voluntary basis. Arguing budgets and policies in a special and beautiful place makes perfect sense.

I want people watching the nightly news to see the majestic Willamette River, flowing as it always has, while we debate the issues of the day. That gives important context to whatever tempest we hold in today’s teapot. Everything washes away eventually. We’re fortunate we can be reminded of that daily.

So move the city council chambers to the riverfront location as soon as possible, but keep the offices for the city’s employees in the center of downtown.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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