Historic Commission voices concerns as Ashland moves to demolish, rebuild City Hall

In a letter to the Mayor and City Council, the city's historic commission said that the City Hall building is identified as a structure of 'significant historical value.'

Posted: Feb 24, 2020 2:03 PM
Updated: Feb 25, 2020 5:37 PM

ASHLAND, Ore. — As the City of Ashland continues to move forward with a plan to replace the old City Hall building, the city's Historic Commission is voicing concerns about a proposal that would see a historic building torn down in the heart of downtown.

In a letter dated February 18, Historic Commission chair Dale Shostrom said that the City Hall building is identified as one of "significant historical value" — one he urged officials to consider preserving.

"The City of Ashland's Municipal Code, in outlining the duties and responsibilities of the Historic Commission, specifies that we are 'to promote public support in the preservation of Ashland's historic past,'" Shostrom wrote. "The Plaza is a significant historic location in Ashland. When entering the Plaza, City Hall is the most prominent building given its unique angled corner location. This is why the proposal for a new building, even if it is a 'historically compatible' structure, will diminish the historical value of the Plaza."

City officials have argued that the current building could be structurally unsound in the event of an earthquake, and the necessary retrofits to bring it up to modern standards would be prohibitively expensive.

Under the current proposal, demolishing and rebuilding City Hall would cost residents about $7.2 million.

READ: City of Ashland wants to hear your suggestions about how to revitalize downtown

The State Historic Preservation Office has been fielding questions from those who support retrofiting the building over seeing it demolished.

"We are happy to offer the City of Ashland technical assistance and guidance that could preserve the building. We have seen numerous projects come across our desks for re-use and restoration that might have ideas that could be incorporated into this project," said Tracy Schwartz, Review and Compliance Historian for the state office.

Schwartz said that "consultation with our office should occur" under Oregon law, since the building is listed both publicly owned and of historic significance. The state agency included a fact sheet about the law and process pertaining to historic public buildings.

"The Commission is aware of the many challenges that the Council faces for the City Hall building project including the construction staging space and the impact of the timeline to the public, to tourism, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the Plaza merchants," Shostrom wrote in his earlier letter. "The Commission's hope is that the Council will continue to consider rehabilitation as an alternative."

READ: Budget cuts will force Ashland Fire to 'run harder with fewer resources,' union says

If the City's proposal goes forward unabated, it will still be subject to the will of the voters. It would appear on the ballot as a 20-year capital improvement bond, costing Ashland homeowners about 26 cents per $1,000 in assessed value.

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