Is the new City Hall too elegant?

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor



As the confetti is swept up and the last piece of celebratory cake is eaten, government workers are settling into the beautiful new Vancouver City Hall.

OK, I missed the open house party last Saturday, so I’m not certain about the confetti and cake. But if it wasn’t there, it should have been, right?

I mean this joint is the cat’s meow.

And I should know. I worked there for a year. But difficult economic times forced The Columbian to put the building into the hands of the bank and the city ended up buying it from the bank for about half what it cost to build.

There’s no question the city got a great deal on the building. And city officials say it also will save taxpayers about $1 million a year. (Hey, if you wait by your mailbox, I’m pretty certain your cut of the savings will be coming soon.)

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Now I don’t want to drizzle on anyone’s parade but am I the only one who is thinking that maybe, just maybe, the new City Hall is (dramatic pause required here) too nice?

You know what I’m saying?

I mean I’ve been to a bunch of cities in this country: L.A., Chicago, Miami, Seattle, Portland, South Palm Beach and there just aren’t many midsized or large cities where the nicest building is City Hall.

Sure, folks could rightfully say it’s a sense of community pride.

But — particularly during very difficult economic times — it’s possible that folks could feel it’s just a little unbecoming to have a fancy-dancy place for city hall workers.

Hey, no one is asking them to work in a trailer but — wait a second — what are those things the Evergreen school district administrators are working in? Hmmm. Looks like the largest school district in the county is in … trailers. (OK, for my politically correct friends … portable buildings.)

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I got in touch with Mayor Tim Leavitt — his new office is on the second floor — to run this by him.

“As you all worked toward buying the new City Hall did any discussion come up on whether or not working in arguably the nicest building in Vancouver could be looked at as being a bit pretentious?”

His answer:

“Had the city not been able to purchase the building at such a great price, we certainly would not be located in such an elegant building.”

But that didn’t quite answer the question. I was trying to get to if anyone recognized it might be bad public relations to have the best joint in town regardless of the price. And to the mayor’s credit, he answered.

“Concern about perception did come up during deliberations but was countered by the amazing purchase price.”

So I guess I wasn’t the only one thinking this. So was the council.

Still, the mayor added:

“Not a single person in the past 12 months has said to me, ‘The building is too nice for a city hall.’ Not a single person.”

But if the mayor had just spoken to himself he would have found someone to at least wonder about this.

Look, if I had my druthers I would have preferred a private company making the building a new home with new jobs. That also would have kept the building on the tax rolls.

But it is what it is. No going back now. So we should be proud of where the city is working. And someday, when this dang economy turns around, maybe a few private buildings will go up that are even better than the one the city owns.

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505 or

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