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Downtown Community Court finds new temporary home after long search

Wednesday, June 23, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

After City Council went through the rigmarole of trying and failing to choose a new location for the Downtown Austin Community Court last year, city staffers have found a temporary solution.

In the coming weeks, DACC will set up shop for 18-24 months at One Texas Center, a city-owned office building at 505 Barton Springs Road, according to a memo.

The short-term move will give staffers more time to choose the best long-term home for the court. Staffers are currently eyeing the former Austin Municipal Court building at 700 E. Seventh St.

As the Austin Monitor previously reported, the court’s current space at 719 E. Sixth Street is far too small and has had many problems – including a raccoon falling through the ceiling. The court has also operated out of the Terrazas Branch Library during the pandemic, but since the library is reopening at the end of this month, the court has to leave.

DACC handles public order offenses in downtown, West Campus and part of East Austin with the goal of rehabilitation instead of punishment. Much of the court’s work involves connecting people experiencing homelessness to services and homes.

Council discussed various locations last year, but found issues with all of them, including scant parking, lack of transit access, the need for costly renovations, and not actually being in downtown. Possible sites included the HealthSouth redevelopment, former Faulk Central Library (now home to the Austin History Center), the Municipal Building on Eighth Street, and a yet-to-be-built office building at 1719 E. Second St.

Though One Texas Center is not technically in downtown, staff sees it as the best space out of the “limited options available.” The building is near high-frequency transit routes, has plentiful parking and needs little renovation. The court will be located on the first floor.

Council Member Kathie Tovo told staffers at Council’s June 1 work session to make sure the move to One Texas Center doesn’t catch nearby residents and business owners unaware. “Before the DACC takes up occupancy in the One Texas Center, I would expect, number one, some outreach to the surrounding community, and two, a real plan for where its permanent location is,” Tovo said.

The staff memo, released last week, mentioned plans to reach out to neighbors before move-in with “information about DACC operations, including services provided and plans for security.” The memo, perhaps anticipating concerns from neighbors, stated that camping on the site is illegal and will be enforced.

Tovo also reiterated that the permanent location should be in downtown: “The Downtown Community Court belongs in downtown, and One Texas Center is not downtown Austin.”

According to Marek Izydorczyk with the city’s Real Estate Services Department, the preferred option at the Municipal Court building on East Seventh Street only needs minor renovations, which would cost $3.5 million and take 18 months.

That price tag would fall well below that of previous options. The new building on East Second Street would have cost $21.5 million, and renovations to the Eighth Street Municipal Building or Faulk Central Library would have cost $20.5 million and $9.5 million, respectively.

Photo by LoneStarMike, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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