Council halts city center court move, calls for study of future needs
Tuesday, March 29, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki
The City Council changed course on its plan to relocate the Downtown Austin Community Court to a historic municipal building on West Eighth Street, directing city staff to conduct an analysis of the court’s future needs with the opportunity to keep its existing space in One Texas Center.
At last week’s meeting, three agenda items would have allocated the $27 million renovation budget for the West Eighth location and set the framework for opening bids for design and build projects. . These items have been removed via movements from Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Kathie Tovo, who asked the court, homeless services partners and the city’s Office of Innovation to help with the study, with this work completed by here at the end of June.
The court lost its long-term leased space on East Sixth Street due to landlord redevelopment plans, forcing the move to One Texas Center, which was intended to be a temporary home.
Plans to move to the old City Hall building on West Eighth drew heavy criticism from the Downtown Austin Alliance and neighboring residents who feared the court’s focus on management services case for the homeless does not conflict with the historic and upscale atmosphere of the area. Some of those opposed to the move also questioned whether the city should spend $27 million to renovate the municipal building and argued that the Waller Creek Center facility on East 10th Street could provide suitable housing for the tribunal.
The city last week released an analysis of the two sites, though it noted that there was no full cost estimate to equip Waller Creek Center for the courthouse instead of its current use for the courts. Austin Water employees. He also noted, “The location of Community Court operations in the building would necessitate moving current AW staff to another location, which would disrupt the continuity of public service operations.”
Adler said cost issues and other issues raised in recent weeks needed to be resolved before he votes on any court moves.
“There is the issue of looking at DACC operations and there have been conversations about moving to a decentralized operation which could have satellite locations and mobile locations. In that regard, I don’t know if the programming of the space needed would be exactly the same,” he said. “I would really like to see different departments in the city find the answer to this question and expand the jurisdiction geographically as well as what we do in terms of changing the focus on crimes and misdemeanors or concerns and challenges ( for the homeless).
Council member Leslie Pool expressed his strongest support for maintaining the tribunal in its current location as part of the restructuring of its purpose and general objectives.
“Every time we have to move, it costs money and effort and there’s also a kind of psychological approach to things, when you have to disrupt your routine and start all over again,” she said. “There are future plans for the One Texas Center site, and what could we do to envision the community court remaining there? I’d like to pursue that as part of the portfolio of work.
City Manager Spencer Cronk suggested Council dedicate a future business meeting to discussing the matter. City real estate department staff said it was unlikely that a full study of the court’s future needs as well as the possibility of it remaining at One Texas Center could be completed in three months.
Discussion of the future of One Texas Center eventually turned to the possibility of turning it into residential use with much of the affordable housing that was planned for the redevelopment of the surrounding South Central Waterfront neighborhood. While Tovo made a strong case for making affordability a priority, Adler said there are many competing ideas and priorities for how the building could be redeveloped.
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Posted in: City Council
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