Our county judge and commissioners need to get their priorities right. The priority should be getting all county residents vaccinated as conveniently and as soon as possible for COVID-19. County residents are dying daily. Instead, our county judge and commissioners are spending their time in the fifth-plus futile effort to re-develop the old county courthouse.
The last plan was to restore it into a 173-room boutique hotel at a cost of $68.5 million according to a study by the Texas Historical Commission. That calculates as about $395,000 per room. With various government grants, the developer would have to get a $28 million loan and pay $1.5 million in back taxes. The developer failed to pay the $1.5 million by the deadline and Judge Neal canceled the agreement. Obviously, the developer could not get a $28 million loan to renovate 173 hotel rooms in a 104-year-old building. I can imagine the lenders’ reaction to such a presentation. “You want me to do what?” The current practice is for hotel rooms to have individual HVAC units in the wall to provide individual temperature control. It is also more energy-efficient. Can you imagine how that 104-year-old building will look with 173 large holes in the walls for HVAC units? The building probably would collapse on itself into a pile of rubble. On second thought, that might be a good idea. Haul the rubble away and have a good clear site for new development.
During the last spring lockdown, major league baseball teams encouraged their season ticket holders to put cut-out cardboard pictures of themselves in their seats to create the image of an audience for players and TV viewers. Why not do that with the old courthouse? Spray paint the outside with a high-tech coating to preserve and beautify it. The architects and other fans could drive by and admire the architectural beauty of it without any maintenance and operating cost for the county.
The Ed Rachal Foundation had the best plan. Buy it for $1.5 million in back taxes and demolish it to create a nice new building site. Of course, the Texas Historical Commission will not allow that until 2027. Why not just wait another 6 years? After all, it has been vacant for 44 years already. What does another 6 years matter?
Once the old courthouse is gone, that site should sell for considerably more than the $1.5 million in back taxes. The Ed Rachel Foundation could demo the courthouse, sell the site for other development, pay the $1.5 million back taxes from the sale proceeds, and still have a nice profit for the foundation to spend on its other charitable causes.
The Robstown fairgrounds were supposed to be self-sustaining. It never has. At last report, it was still costing taxpayers $2.5 million each year in maintenance and operating cost. Please do not build another project that has no chance of ever being self-sustaining and will be a sinkhole for wasted taxpayer money forever. County judge and commissioners: absolutely do not accept any money from the Texas Historical Commission that will extend the 2027 deadline!! That was a terrible decision in 2006. Otherwise, the old courthouse would be gone by now.
Author: Ralph Coker