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City identifies Downtown Community Court east side location

Tuesday, October 20, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

After considering the available options, the city is ready to make the first move to relocate the Downtown Austin Community Court across Interstate 35 into a planned three-story building at 1719 E. Second St. The city intends to bring a 10-year lease agreement for City Council’s consideration on Nov. 12.

The Downtown Community Court is currently operating with 38 full-time employees out of a 4,900-square-foot building that has had numerous problems (including several occurrences of raccoons falling through the ceiling) and lacks adequate space for social distancing, Alex Gale of the Office of Real Estate Services told Council’s Public Safety Committee on Monday. The city plans to construct a three-story, 30,000-square-foot office at the new Second Street location, which is currently home to a single-story building.

If Council approves the agreement, the city estimates a move-in date sometime in July 2022, after 12-18 months of construction. For the first 10 years, the move would cost the city over $21.5 million. At the end of the lease term, the city could either purchase the site or extend the agreement another 10 years.

At that price, Council Member Greg Casar said they could have paid for needed renovations of downtown sites like the Austin Municipal Building or the John H. Faulk Library, at costs of $20.5 million and $9.5 million respectively. Both sites had been considered for the court, but the city opted against each due to limited space at the Faulk and limited parking at the Municipal Building, among other issues.

“It seems like one of the main reasons for not using (the Municipal Building) for this was because it might be expensive, but the fact of the matter is that that’s an expense we’re going to incur sooner or later no matter what … to renovate that building,” Casar said. “It’s hard for me to say that’s more expensive than other options because we’re going to have to pay for that at some point soon.”

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan agreed with the city that the lack of space at the Faulk “closes the door” on that option, but pushed back against the city’s conclusion that the lack of parking at the Municipal Building, located on West Eighth Street, was a valid reason to reject the site.

“When I look at the cons that are listed, parking and accessibility for people with disabilities and the building issues, you’re going to have to solve for that no matter what and we’re talking about a building location which is proximate to our busiest and most well-served transit corridors,” Flannigan said. “So I’m not convinced that parking is a limitation – because this is one of the best-served areas of transit – and the other issues are issues that would be present no matter what potential use was proposed.”

The Downtown Community Court has stated a need for 104 parking spaces and currently leases 20 parking spaces at a cost of $157 per space per month. The Municipal Building offers 13 on-site spaces.

The proposed East Austin location is served one block south by Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s high-frequency bus route 17. The building design also includes 45 underground parking spaces.

Mayor Steve Adler agreed that the Faulk is no longer a viable option and said he was comfortable with the city’s current plan. As for the Municipal Building, he added, “That … building is just absolutely gorgeous and I want us to find a use to be able to use that. It’s such a beautiful building that having something that relates culturally … would be phenomenal so that becomes a very publicly used space, one of the prettiest structures I think we have.”

Rendering courtesy of the city of Austin.

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