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County: New Courthouse Sure to Be Built on Veritable Quandary Site

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

 

Lower left: The county is all but certain to develop a new public courthouse on the lot south of SW Madison Street (center). The development would slide a section off of the Veritable Quandary restaurant (lower left corner). Photo credit: Google

A new county courthouse slated for completion by 2020 will almost certainly be built on land where a portion of a popular downtown restaurant now stands, according to Multnomah County officials.

News broke Monday, that the county’s preferred site for a new $250 million central courthouse would be vacant county-owned lot next to the restaurant Veritable Quandary, on the west side of the Hawthorne bridgehead.

That news is not good for Veritable Quandary owner Denny King. The forty-year-old restaurant, at 1220 SW 1st Avenue, is using about 2,000 sq feet of that lot for its kitchen and lavish outdoor seating area.  On Monday King made the rounds of TV news media and others saying the development would destroy his business.

Multnomah County Spokesman David Austin said even though it has not officially been voted on by county commissioners “it’s almost certain” that the new courthouse will go on the site.

A county siting committee looked around the city and narrowed down eleven sites to two possible ones, the county property on 1st Avenue and a downtown block used for surface parking, at 140 Southwest Columbia Street. 

The alternative to building on the county lot would be to buy the Southwest Columbia Street property at a hefty price.

“What are we going to do,” said Austin. “ Spend another $10 to $20 million [in order to spare the restaurant]? We have to be good stewards of the taxpayer's money.”

Veritable Quandary for VQ

The VQ has been a downtown landmark for decades. Photo credit: VQ website.

The VQ, as it is know, is a venerable institution that stand out in contrast to Portland’s trendy and Avant Guard restaurant scene.  The bar and restaurant has hosted captains of industry and political powerbrokers for generations.

Just recently, satirist John Stewart and members of Fleetwood Mac were dined at the VQ.

Established in 1971, when the area was a largely neglected zone, the VQ expanded in 1982 onto land leased from the county. The lease is up in 2017, according to King. He said he’he will go out of business if he can’t renew.

“They’re taking my business away,” said King on Monday. “I thought we were a community that supported small business.”

King said the VQ supports 70 families with a payroll of $1.7 million. He said he did not’t have the money to move.

Ashton said the county respected small business but that authorities had to weigh the costs for the taxpayer.

“We are trying to do good by the taxpayer,” Austin said. “We have to look at what’s best for all, not the few.”

King said the county has not made an offer to purchase his property.  Austin confirmed that King’s property was not needed. 

Few options

County Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the site committee’s recommendations on Thursday. There will be time for public comment then, said Ashton.

The existing courthouse was built between 1909 and 1914, when Multnomah County had about a quarter of its current population. 

The building does not meet seismic standards and its structure has a “poor” safety rating, according to the county.

In 2013, the State of Oregon committed $13 million to the initial phases of the project, and agreed to split the construction cost 50-50.  The state circuit court runs out of the building.  The building would be anywhere from 345,000 to 360,000 sq feet.

An alternative site a few blocks away on Southwest Columbia Street was also a viable option.  The county did not know what the potential purchase price for the property would be.  The land is owned by the Goodman family, of Downtown Development Group LLC, according to Ashton. County records stated the land is registered to a limited liability corporation and the law firm of Ball Janik LLP.

The county also owns the land across from Southwest Madison Street at the base of the Hawthorne Bridge.  Ashton said that the configuration of roads and infrastructure made the site prohibitive to build on.

The siting committee was scheduled to present its findings to the county commission on Tuesday with a vote and opportunity for public comment on Thursday.

On Monday, Austin said that the site selection committee looked all over the city, but that downtown and west side locations were the only practical options.

“It’s a very popular place. I eat there myself with my family,” Austin said. “We look forward to have the VQ as a neighbor.”

 

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(photo- Axcordion CC)

 
 

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