Calling it “the Mayberry Effect,” a number of Ashlanders Thursday let city leaders know they want to keep the venerable and homey, 125-year-old City Hall right where it is, on the Plaza, thus preserving the nostalgic old feel of the city — kind of like “The Andy Griffith Show” of the 1960s. 

At Pioneer Hall, consultants ORW Architecture of Medford presented options, all of them downtown: expansion of the Community Development Building (CDB) on Winburn Way, expansion of the old City Hall and some reconfiguration of the CDB — or a new building at Lithia Way and North Pioneer Street, now a parking lot. 

The re-do is driven by the impending threat of a large earthquake and also by growth of city staff, said City Administrator Dave Kanner. Seismic upgrades would give staff time to exit to safety in the event of an earthquake. 

Citizens were invited to put blue stickers on their preferred priorities, which will be included in a feasibility study due for presentation to the City Council in October. The top pick was “stay on the Plaza,” with 11 stickers, followed by “energy efficiency.” “Move off the Plaza” got eight votes. Ironically, “building safety” came in last with just one sticker. 

After ORW presented five options, citizens raised many objections, with Ashland builder Rick Vezie noting, “Everyone agrees our Mayberry City Hall needs to stay where it is. People can park and walk to it easily. It’s part of who we are, as a community. It’s not that we’re resistant to change; we’re resistant to foolishness.” 

Ashland historian George Kramer said he favors “none of the above,” but could live with the option that adds a floor to city hall, restores it, does seismic retrofit and expands CDB. 

“This is simply not a priority for me. We don’t need to grow City Hall by 20 percent,” says Kramer. “If they need to add staff, it’s more cost effective to move them to the civic center (on East Main). Why should citizens approve (millions of dollars in a bond issue) to overcome the city’s minor crowding issue? I see no groundswell of support for this. ... It’s tone deaf in a community where rent is soaring and people can’t find a place to live, to have the city complain they are cramped. I wouldn’t vote for it and I don’t know who would.” 

Kanner said the city has no legal obligation but does have a “moral obligation” to upgrade City Hall and protect workers. He said “it’s going to collapse, not if, but when” there’s a major magnitude quake triggered in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. 

ORW architect Dana Crawford, in her presentation, said it’s not possible to combine Community Development into the old City Hall, with four stories, because it’s too small, would require temporary staff relocation and is prohibitively expensive. That option would preserve the north and west walls of the historic structure. Another option would add two floors to CDB. Another would have three new floors instead of four at City Hall. 

There was talk of abandoning the historic City Hall, in which case it would revert to original, long-ago owners and still be a seismic problem — an idea which won no favor. 

Vezie, a member of the Our Town Committee that fought City Hall relocation to East Main in 1993, adds, “City Hall is smack dab in the middle of downtown. The Helman agreement donated all the Plaza land to the city. For the city to propose it on Pioneer Street is outside the Plaza. The bottom line for us is City Hall has to stay on the Plaza. Our town has three main things that make the economy thrive: (Southern Oregon) University, the (Oregon Shakespeare) Festival and the fact that we are essentially Mayberry, like a museum of small-town America.” 

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.