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Photograph By DIEGO REYNA

Featured, from left: Precinct 4 Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios; Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García; Mayor Richard García; and City Councilmember Homer Jasso, Jr. In the background are, from left: Agustín García, Jr., Executive Director, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, and Noé Hinojosa, Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer for Estrada • Hinojosa Investment Bankers of Dallas, which is the city’s financial consultant. This image was taken at Edinburg City Hall during the Monday, February 8, 2016 joint work session on the proposed $150 million Hidalgo County Courthouse, which will be built in Edinburg.

Photograph By DIEGO REYNA

Edinburg and Hidalgo County leaders are set to meet on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 to consider approving a financial agreement that could result in the construction of a $150 million Hidalgo County Courthouse in the city’s historic downtown, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. In addition, the elected leaders and the public will receive an update on the architectural details for the proposed courthouse from ERO Architects of McAllen. If all goes as planned, work could begin on the new courthouse before the end of this year, with a completion date of October 2018, weather permitting. The existing courthouse would continue to function while the new facility is being built. The March 8 joint session, which is open to the public and will begin at 2 p.m., will take place in the Council Chamber of Edinburg City Hall, 415 West University Drive, which is two blocks west of the existing Hidalgo County Courthouse complex.

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Edinburg, Hidalgo County to meet on Tuesday, March 8, to approve $30 million contribution by city towards building $150 million courthouse

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Edinburg and Hidalgo County leaders are set to meet on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 to consider approving a financial agreement that could result in the construction of a $150 million Hidalgo County Courthouse in the city’s historic downtown, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

In addition, the elected leaders and the public will receive an update on the architectural details for the proposed courthouse from ERO Architects of McAllen.

If all goes as planned, work could begin on the new courthouse before the end of this year, with a completion date of October 2018, weather permitting. The existing courthouse would continue to function while the new facility is being built.

The March 8 joint session, which is open to the public and will begin at 2 p.m., will take place in the Council Chamber of Edinburg City Hall, 415 West University Drive, which is two blocks west of the existing Hidalgo County Courthouse complex.

The EEDC, of which Agustín García, Jr. is Executive Director, is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council.

The EEDC Board of Directors is comprised of Mark Iglesias as President, Harvey Rodríguez as Vice President, Ellie M. Torres as Secretary/Treasurer, and Mayor Richard García and Richard Ruppert as Members.

Richard García and Agustín García, Jr. are not related.

NO PROPERTY TAX RATE INCREASES WOULD BE REQUIRED

The Edinburg mayor and the county judge have previously pledged that the financing of the new courthouse won’t be a burden on property taxpayers.

“We have some major projects going on, we are booming, no question,” said Mayor García. “But going back to the $30 million (city contribution to the courthouse), so the public knows we just didn’t pick that figure out of the air (and) we can afford without increasing our tax rate in any way affecting our general fund. The $30 million is what was affordable to the City of Edinburg.”

The county judge said the same protections are in place for county property taxpayers.

“By the same token, on behalf of the county, we find ourselves in this stage of our county history, by restructuring our debt service, and taking into consideration some factors that are coming up in our immediate future, we, too, can tell the public that the dollars we are talking about are well within our budget, that we will not be needing to increase our county tax rate, in order to meet the debt service on the new courthouse,” said County Judge García.

The mayor and county judge are not related.

Sonia Marroquín, Edinburg Assistant City Manager, provided details of the proposed financial agreement, known as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), in her written analysis provided to the mayor and city council.

“The purposed of the Memorandum of Understanding is to memorialize the commitments made by the County of Hidalgo and the City of Edinburg for the construction of a new Hidalgo County Courthouse to be located in the county seat of Edinburg,” she said. “The new courthouse will serve the increasing judicial needs of the county as well as revitalize the downtown Edinburg area, and spur economic development in the community. Hidalgo County is committed to constructing and operating the new courthouse, with the expectation that the new complex would be built on the existing courthouse square in downtown Edinburg.”

The new courthouse would serve existing courts and allow for future courts, serve the county clerk’s and district clerk’s offices and other support services while improving the safety and health conditions for employees and the public, Marroquín added.

According to the proposed Memorandum of Understanding, Edinburg would contribute 20 percent of the cost of development and construction of the courthouse project, not to exceed $30 million, based on the projected total cost of the $150 million, six-story facility.

“If the total cost is reduced, the city’s contribution shall be reduced accordingly to maintain the 20 percent (0ffer),” the assistant city manager continued. “If the city pays the contribution over time instead of paying the enticement commitment upfront, the city will give consideration to including payments of interest accrued over the finance period, plus the 20 percent of the cost of the courthouse.”

Additional terms are to be determined and will be subject to one or more additional agreements between the city and county which may include an interlocal agreement and/or a Chapter 380 agreement, Marroquín noted.

In general, an interlocal agreement is a collaborative contract between governments, such as Edinburg and Hidalgo County, aiming to provide more efficient, less costly public services.

Also, a Chapter 380 agreement is usually defined as an action that authorizes Texas municipalities, both home-rule and general law municipalities, to provide assistance for economic development. Texas cities may provide monies, loans, city personnel, and city services for promotion and encouragement of economic development.

COURTHOUSE COMPLEX DESIGNED AROUND CITY DOWNTOWN MASTER PLAN

The new courthouse complex is designed around the goals of the Downtown Master Plan of the City of Edinburg, a vision approved by the city leadership and the EEDC Board of Directors in 2010 to promote business development, cultural activities, transportation, and tourism for that portion of the city.

“The idea is to develop a downtown where people just don’t park, go on to the courthouse, then leave,” said Eli Ochoa, P.E., AIA, a structural engineer and architect who is founder and general partner for ERO Architects. “The idea is to have people walk through downtown to be able to get to the courthouse, thereby creating more of a vibrancy for retail and commercial development, and really help the downtown area of Edinburg.”

In addition to the key points highlighted by Marroquín in her executive summary of the proposed memorandum of understanding, the document provides some historical perspectives on key issues prompting the need for the new courthouse.

“Originally constructed in 1954, the existing courthouse accommodated five courts that served a small rural community which a population of 168,000,” the memorandum of understanding states. “Today, Hidalgo County has 24 courts with a (county) population nearing 900,000. The increase of over 475 percent in number of courtrooms requires county and city leaders to address the need for a new courthouse that can accommodate all of the current county courts, while considering (Edinburg’s) continuing growth and the changing landscape that has become known as downtown Edinburg.”

ERO Architects, on its web page which features its many other major projects, provides the following description of the planned courthouse complex:

“The new facility will remain on the same existing property and provide increased governmental services in an accessible, highly-secure, 21st century judicial facility. The six-story courthouse features a glass facade on the north providing an abundance of natural light and views while maintaining energy efficiency. The design and floor plans incorporate critical security measures by the separation of defendants-in-custody from the public and staff to ensure safety. The lower two floors provide high volume court services such as the county clerk, district clerk, jury assembly and grand jury rooms. The courtrooms are provided in a six-courtroom per floor set located on the upper floors.”

ERO Architects is also responsible for developing a comprehensive history of the courthouses of Hidalgo County. That information is available online at:

http://agenda.hidalgocounty.us/docs/2013/CC/20130319_2011/37714_AI%2037714%20-%20Historical%20Plan.pdf

HISTORIC HIDALGO COUNTY COURTHOUSE

The executive summary of that report, titled Historic Hidalgo County Courthouse, and published in May 2012, follows:

When the historic courthouse opened in 1954, it was the pride of the county. A grand building in the latest architectural style, 70,000 square feet in area, it held all the branches of county government under one roof. By 1977 though, the county population had increased by fifty percent, and many departments had been moved to annex sites.

The courthouse was in need of repairs, and planning for expansion and improvements began. In 1980, the building was enlarged substantially to 93,000 square feet and seven courtrooms were added. As the courthouse passed the 50-year mark in 2004, the county population had increased over four-fold, and more remodeling was done to insert new courtrooms into the crowded building. The county’s growth has continued, with a population now almost five times that of 1950.

Many legal, administrative and general government functions once located in the historic courthouse are now in off-site facilities, but the infill construction and sometimes unsympathetic modifications remain.

The current long-range master planning effort for the Hidalgo County Courthouse is an opportunity to set new preservation goals for the historic courthouse, and make it the pride of the county once again.

This study of the Historic Hidalgo County Courthouse is a component of the Hidalgo County Courthouse Master Plan, prepared by ERO Architects for Hidalgo County. The study is an abbreviated historic structures report and preservation master plan, and includes information on the history of the courthouse, an overview of existing conditions and broad recommendations for preservation treatment of the building.

The study is intended to identify opportunities for preservation and restoration of significant elements and spaces remaining in the Historic Hidalgo County Courthouse. The information will inform the planning team, as recommendations for the future use and preservation of the historic courthouse are formulated.

Partial construction drawings for the original 1954 construction phase and subsequent major additions and renovations, completed in 1980 and 2006, were provided by Travis County (through ERO Architects) for use in this study. The construction specifications were not located, and the drawings of earlier courthouses were also not located, and may not exist.

Historic photographs of the original construction work, the completed building exterior and interior, and later additions and renovations were located in the Museum of South Texas History photo archives.

Photographs of earlier county courthouses were located in the holdings of the Texas Department of Transportation photo archives, the University of Texas-Pan American Library, the Museum of South Texas History and the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

The office staff of the Hidalgo County Clerk provided frequent access to Commissioners Court minutes for information relating to the development and maintenance of the courthouse. The minutes were searched for references to the courthouse, including the site, construction, furniture, furnishings, maintenance, alterations and improvements. (A synopsis of the relevant minutes is included in the appendix.)

Additional research was conducted at the Museum of South Texas History, University of Texas-Pan American Library, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, Texas State Law Library and the Texas State Library and Archives, to locate reference materials about the building, the county courts system and contemporaneous descriptions of significant events.

Hidalgo County (through ERO Architects) provided copies of previous reports and studies of the courthouse, commissioned by the county, for review. Finally, a general sense of the condition, occupancy and use of the building was gathered during the course of two day-long site visits, to assist in preparing the broad preservation recommendations.

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For more information on the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and the City of Edinburg, please log on to http://edinburgedc.com or to http://www.facebook.com/edinburgedc

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