$1 million in work needed at Jacksonville courthouse

JACKSONVILLE — An events space should be created on the second floor of the 1883 Jackson County Courthouse, while City Hall should occupy the ground floor, according to a consultant's report delivered last week.

Nearly $1 million in upgrades would be required to bring the city-owned building up to date, and the report says the city will consider taking on $600,000 in loans to accomplish the renovation.

Bob Irvine, vice president of PARC Resources — the Bend-based company chosen to evaluate the building — will give a presentation at a City Council study session at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 30, in Old City Hall, 205 W. Main St.

Mayor Paul Becker said he hopes to include an opportunity for public comment and questions about the proposal.

PARC evaluated use options, public desires and financial possibilities for restoration after Jacksonville took over courthouse ownership from Jackson County in November.

"I would like to get everything out on the table in the way of the kind of feelings that people may have about this," said Becker. "I'm sure the council will come at this from different perspectives."

Irvine said he was surprised there was little public comment when the firm held a session in town earlier, but that may be a sign that people are not unhappy with ownership and renovation of the structure.

"I had the feeling walking around and talking to people it was a community icon and a community treasure," said Irvine.

People liked the proposed uses, he added.

An 18-page event center economic potential analysis, a 15-page white paper on community preferences for building use and an eight-page capitalization strategy were prepared, funded by a grant to the city from the Ford Family Foundation.

The second-floor events center would occupy the former court space, which is 62 by 90 feet. Among center details:

  • A center could be rented to the public for weddings, concerts, receptions, gatherings, meetings and other occasions. A warming kitchen would be included. A stage, sound system, lighting and screen with projector are also envisioned.
  • Expenses to operate the center are projected to range from $18,720 to $22,078 over the first five years. The operation would produce a small profit of $1,738 to $4,714 annually over the time period. Suggested rents range from $95 to $400 based on day and season of use.
  • Most competitors for hosting similar events are located well outside Jacksonville's city limits, the report states.

"It's not as big as Carnegie Hall, but it is certainly as tall," said Becker, who would like to see musical offerings and dramatic readings in the space during evenings.

Restoration costs are detailed in the community preferences report.

Refurbishing would cost $949,104. Seismic upgrades to the structure would comprise $334,800 of the expense. An elevator to the second floor would add $180,000. Other major items include $98,000 for plumbing and new bathrooms, $95,000 for new electrical service and $88,000 for HVAC systems.

The community wants to have public use in the building and to maintain it to enhance the historic character of the town. While community response to requests for opinions was labeled "subdued," half of 20 people who filled out a survey favored the recommended use.

Potential funding would come from several sources.

Jacksonville has $50,000 in cash available for the project and would seek loans of $600,000. The remaining money would be sought from local contributions and grants from state and federal as well as private foundations. Specific grant sources and their application deadlines are included in the report.

"The private foundations will only want to fund the public-use portion of the building, not City Hall," said Irvine. "They increasingly like to see a project that is substantially funded before they come in."

Umatilla created a combined library and city hall that secured private grants for the library portion. Other small towns have similar arrangements, Irvine said.

"I've had virtually no negative feedback on moving city offices there ... except one person, who is very concerned about cost," said Becker. One possibility for financing would be the town's urban renewal program, he said.

City Hall has been housed in the Miller House for two decades under what started as a temporary arrangement. Sale of the house could be part of the equation for restoring the courthouse, said Becker.

"Every step of this thing has to be approved by the council," said Becker. "Where I come from on this is to come up with what you want to do. Given the nature and history of the building, the money will flow if your idea is a good one."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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