Portland City Hall’s major makeover is underway

By Alex Zielinski (OPB)
May 15, 2024 9:47 p.m.

The place where Portland City Council meets and votes will look much different in the coming months.

Portland City Council Chambers are used to noise. But instead of grandstanding politicians or chanting protesters, the sound of heavy construction is filling the room this week.


Construction crews are tearing down walls, ripping out carpet, and dismantling electronics to prepare council chambers for its next chapter. In November, Portlanders will elect 12 people to serve on city council — three times larger than its current body — as part of the voter-approved plan to reconfigure the city’s form of government. And those new officials will need somewhere to sit when they start work on Jan. 1.

Workers are replacing the council table with a much larger, semi-circular dais with space for 12 council members, the mayor, and other council staffers. They are also removing all outdated technology in the room — a long overdue process.

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Maty Sauter, who oversees the city’s asset management department, said the council chambers were last remodeled in the 1990s. “So there’s been a lot of evolution in security infrastructure and audio visual infrastructure since then,” she said.

Demolition began last week. The original council table is gone and the wall behind the dais has been reduced to a pile of metal framing studs. The gutted chambers are now filled with scaffolding, allowing workers to reach the ceiling to replace light fixtures and apply a new coat of paint. They’re working fast, thanks to the unusually swift timeframe.

Related: Portland commissioners clash over plans to renovate City Hall for larger Council

Sauter said her office had begun planning to update the electronics in council chambers five years ago, but two unexpected factors forced them to change course: the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought new technology needs to City Hall to accommodate for hybrid work, and the 2022 ballot measure that expanded the size of council.


“We knew as soon as the election happened that we were going to have to be responsive to that,” Sauter said.

The city began meeting with architects and construction teams shortly after the November 2022 election, and began ordering specialty items, mostly electronics, that they knew could take more than a year to come in.

The work goes beyond just council chambers. Construction workers will also need to remodel city council offices and the mayor’s office by the end of the year to make space for the expanded staff. This process has been bumpy: Last year, several City Council members pushed back on a plan drafted by Sauter to move their offices out of City Hall in early 2024, to allow for construction. After a heated debate, commissioners agreed to stay in their current offices until July, giving workers just six months to renovate their offices.

Related: Massive change coming to Portland city government

Sauter said construction workers will begin working on those offices in late July. And, she added, tensions between commissioners and her office over this plan have lessened.

“I think overall, there was not enough communication with the council offices about what impact this would have on them,” she said. “But I would say ever since then, we’ve forged a much more direct relationship with council offices, and it’s a much more collaborative relationship now.”

The city has authorized spending up to $8 million on the renovation. This was funded in the current fiscal year budget, which began in July 2023. Sauter said that the upcoming budget, which council votes on this week, has no impact on the construction work.

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But there’s one unfunded plan still up in the air: District offices. The new councilors will represent residents of four different geographic districts instead of the entire city. Current city council members proposed creating secondary offices for each new council member in their district, but the city paused that plan because of disagreements about which buildings to use and how to staff them.

Sauter said it wasn’t prudent to make that decision now and said the new council will address that issue.

City council is temporarily holding their weekly meetings in a city building on Southwest 4th Avenue until construction is complete. In July, all commissioners and the mayor will move their offices into other city buildings.