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Old City Hall could host new downtown court

Wednesday, November 17, 2021 by Jo Clifton

As Deputy Chief Financial Officer Kimberly Olivares explained during Tuesday’s City Council work session, city staffers are recommending relocating the Downtown Austin Community Court to the Municipal Building at 124 W. Eighth St. She explained that staff had considered 22 different sites in the Central Austin area before deciding that the old City Hall is the best location. After hearing Olivares’ presentation, several Council members indicated they would be happy to settle on that location.

The city established the Downtown Austin Community Court, or DACC, in 1999 to help people experiencing homelessness deal with misdemeanor charges and achieve long-term stability. The current budget for the DACC, which employs 37 people, is close to $10 million. Because the court’s jurisdiction is downtown, East Austin and the West Campus area, it was important that the new location be downtown. It is temporarily located at One Texas Center, south of downtown.

Olivares explained that city staff considered a variety of sites either to buy or lease to purchase, as well as looking at existing city space. The Municipal Building, built in 1858, has seen several renovations over the years, with the current configuration completed in 1938. The exterior of the building was designated an Austin landmark in 2002, though the interior is not.

The city’s Financial Services Department currently occupies the space, and if Council approves the plan for the DACC, financial staff would move to the old Austin Energy building known as Town Lake Center. According to Olivares, the Public Works Department plan would allow the DACC to occupy the Eighth Street building in 22 months after a comprehensive renovation. She also indicated there would be a symbiotic relationship between employees located at One Texas Center and Town Lake Center.

Council Member Kathie Tovo said she wanted to make sure there was room at the One Texas Center property for affordable housing. Olivares told her there would still be plenty of space for housing.

Council members also seemed very happy to hear that, while the DACC would occupy the first floor and most of the second floor of the building, part of the second and third floors can be used for art exhibits, cultural and nonprofit space uses. Olivares said staff members are working with the Austin Economic Development Corporation to come up with options.

In order to pay for the renovations, the city can issue about $25 million in certificates of obligation. Olivares said staff would come back to Council in December to request approval of a design-build alternative delivery method. Once that happens, Financial Services staff can be relocated and workers can begin asbestos and lead abatement followed by comprehensive renovation of the building.

Council Member Pio Renteria was especially pleased with the recommendation. Renteria shot down efforts last year to find a permanent location for the court in his East Austin district. At the time, he suggested that the old Municipal Building would make a good location for the court.

Mayor Steve Adler and Council members Leslie Pool and Ann Kitchen all indicated their enthusiastic support of the project.

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