Oregon State Bar Bulletin — FEBRUARY/MARCH 2005

Governors' Perspectives
Building for the Future
Thinking about a new bar center
By Frank H. Hilton Jr.

In 1986, when the Oregon State Bar sold its headquarters building at Southwest 18th Avenue and Madison Street near Lincoln High School in downtown Portland and moved to the new center in Kruse Woods, many doubters thought that the bar was making a big mistake. I was among the doubters and I am happy to admit my error.

In the 1980s cows roamed property adjacent to the new bar center. Today it is sitting in the middle of the highest priced office real estate in Oregon. In 1986 the land and new building cost $2.2 million. Today brokers tell us the property is worth $7 million to $8 million. If we had to pay rent for our building today, your annual dues would have to increase $30 to $40. The move from 18th and Madison was a better deal than the Board of Governors could have imagined when it was approved.

A few years ago some members of the board started to voice concerns about the future of our facilities. Eventually we will outgrow them and what then? In 2000 the architectural firm of AIA Barrents Bates Lee conducted a study of our building and land and concluded that while the building could be expanded by up to 20,000 square feet within existing code requirements, construction costs would be prohibitive. After such a remodel the property would not be worth the cost.

In the past two years the subject of the future of the bar center has been the subject of more study and discussions. While the number of bar employees has been growing at half the rate of the growth of our membership, we estimate that the present facilities will be at capacity in five to seven years. Of course that time limit could be pushed out further, but in the world of real estate five to seven years is not a lot of time and it would be a mistake to ignore the issue.

Recently the architectural firm of Yost Grube Hall was retained to provide advice to the Board of Govenors and to study viable alternatives. Preliminarily Yost Grube concluded that remodeling our building is cost prohibitive. They came up with a plan that was a lot different than the plan that was proposed by AIA Barrents Bates in 2000, but the answer was the same. It costs too much. Plus a remodel would involve two years of construction chaos and would leave the bar center with no parking for one year, more than a slight inconvenience given the fact that there is no alternative parking available in the Kruse Way district.

Other options will be given careful study over the coming months and possibly years. Our primary goal is to hold the line on bar dues. Based on preliminary studies that will exclude new construction as an alternative. A more viable alternative may be to sell the bar center while it is at the top of the market and purchase an existing semi-distressed property that allows space for future expansion. While the Hillsboro area offers some big bargains, the location does not appear to work for our membership. Moving back to the central metro area may work. We have been approached by the Portland Development Commission, which has available financial assistance for moves to some locations in Portland.

The decision on if we should move, when we should move and where we should move is a matter of spending as little of your money as possible. The decision of the Board of Governors to sell 18th and Madison 19 years ago has resulted in a huge benefit for our membership that is validated each year we pay dues. We hope to repeat that performance.

I would be happy to receive your comments and suggestions regarding the future of the bar center. I do not want to overload my office e-mail in-box, so please contact me at my personal e-mail address: f.hilton@comcast.net.

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