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Travis County’s new Central Campus could cost more than $1 billion

Wednesday, December 1, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Travis County’s new downtown central campus may cost as much as $1.2 billion to complete. Those figures, a high-end projection of the final amount that will be required to complete on 13 buildings by 2035, were delivered to Commissioners’ Court Tuesday by project consultant Broaddus & Associates.


That news came as the court moved to select a specific plan for campus development. The plan, known as Scenario 2A, is an approach that was developed after stakeholder input revealed a split in opinion about how the county should build the campus.


The commissioners voted unanimously — with Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez absent – to move forward with the scenario presented by staff and their Broaddus consultant. Funding for the project may come through a combination of bond sales and public-private partnerships.


The worst-case estimate puts total project costs at between $913 million and $1.2 billion. Broaddus and Associates Vice President Stephen Coulston told In Fact Daily that those figures were conservative.


This is master planning so we’re trying to look at worst-case scenarios,” he said.


County Auditor Susan Spataro argued that the campus plan “is the right thing to do. The plan doesn’t create the costs, it allows you to manage them, she said.


Though she said she wasn’t involved in the development of the cost estimate, Spataro echoed Coulston’s thoughts. “When you’re estimating out that far, it’s really more of an order of magnitude type of thing, she said. I mean, you don’t know what the building’s going to cost. Building costs may go up or not. Interest costs may go up or not. So it really is just an estimate.


Should the worst-case become reality, Travis County could shell out between $272 and $345 million for its new Civil and Family Justice Center. That building, which would house offices including those of the county’s Civil Courts, District Clerk, County Clerk, and Domestic Relations divisions, is expected to be 17 stories and will account for 510,000 square feet of space.


That project would represent the high end of campus costs. Other estimates include between $235 and $306 million for the partial demolition and expansion of the Blackwell Thurman Criminal Justice Center, between $66 million and $103 million for the restoring of the Courthouse, and between $67 million and $110 million for the upgrade of the 700 Lavaca Street building.


Costs for the project would be spread out over its 20-plus-year life. “We’re really looking for space that’s need over a 20-, 25-year period, said Spataro. “So as we build that, there will be people to pay for it…I mean, if we weren’t having any population growth, we really wouldn’t need much more space. So, new growth in property should pay for that.


Still, property taxes could increase. “(They) probably will go up some,” she said, adding that any blow will be lessened by regional growth.


When the property tax base grows, she said, “we do get money off of that base.


The major differences in each of the scenarios considered by the county and Broaddus have to do with the eventual location of the county’s central booking facility and the home of its county attorney’s office. Under Scenario 2A, both of those departments will be located on the site of what is now a garage on San Antonio Street.

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