Oct 26, 2023 - News

Why a fence and plywood are still up on downtown courthouses

One building with plywood boarding up the front door and another with fencing and concrete blocks around it.

The former Multnomah County Courthouse, now owned by commercial developers, left, and the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in downtown Portland. Photos: Emily Harris/Axios

You asked, we answer. From the Unstumped inbox, we have this question: Why are courthouses downtown, where the 2020 protests took place, still covered in plywood and fencing?

Catch up quick: The protests were largely concentrated near the former Multnomah County Courthouse, its first floor now fully encased in plywood, and the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, its entrance surrounded by a high metal fence and concrete barricades, which first went up during the protests.

Why it matters: At a glance, it might feel like nothing has changed in three years.

What's happening: The federal courthouse is under construction stemming from the protests, which caused $1.6 million in damage.

  • The latest includes new highly secure doors — part of a national project to "harden" federal courthouses around the country.
  • The project is expected to be finished sometime next spring.
  • Of note: The fence around the front of the building was taken down briefly in 2021 but put up again three days later after more damage. Currently, visitors are funneled to one small tunnel-like entrance through that exterior fence.

Separately, the old county courthouse closed in October 2020, when a $324 million replacement — four years in the making — opened a few blocks away on SW 1st Ave., right next to the Hawthorne Bridge.

  • It's now owned by NBP Capital, a commercial real estate company, which won approval in 2020 to convert the historic courthouse into offices — right before demand for downtown office space fell.
  • Plans also included filling in the courtyard and adding event space and eateries while preserving pieces like the grand interior staircase.
  • Yes, but: There's no active renovation work visible, and neither NBP Capital nor the leasing agent, JLL, responded to Axios' questions about a timeline for completion or why the building is still boarded up.

Meanwhile, the wooden wall that blocked the new county courthouse was removed in May, and the courthouse is now buzzing with business.

  • We caught a photo from across the river this week and now we are wondering: Who's working all night, and what's the electricity bill?
A brightly lit building at night.
The new Multnomah County Courthouse at night. Photo: Emily Harris/Axios

The answer: County officials tell us last year's bill was $333,126.81, but they noted that's much cheaper than in the old courthouse — 71 cents per square foot compared with $1.05 — and noted that the building includes photovoltaic panels on the roof that help power the raising and lowering of the Hawthorne Bridge.

  • If you see lights on at night, a county spokesperson says, someone is in the room, it's safety lighting or something is going on after hours.
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