The August 26 edition of the Caller-Times opinion page had opposing articles for tearing down the old county courthouse and for keeping it. The “tear it down” article had a chronological record of its shameful history. The most damning decision was in 2002 when Nueces County Commissioners accepted a $1.9 million emergency courthouse restoration grant from the Texas Historical Commission to preserve it and in return agreed to extend the covenant prohibiting its demolition from 2018 to 2027. Without that terrible decision, it could have been torn down this year, 2018. The county commissioners closed a deal with an Ohio developer to buy it for the back taxes, $1.6 million, and turn it into a luxury boutique hotel. The developer never paid the $1.6 million and the county recently cancelled the deal. So, we have the damn, ugly thing until at least 2027.
Why can’t our county commissioners and city council members learn not to make deals with developers without vetting them to ensure they have the operational capability and financial capability to complete the project?
The article quoted the latest estimated cost to convert the old courthouse to a hotel to be $45 million. Assuming it has space for 50 rooms, that’s $900,000 per room. By comparison, the city council has a recent proposal from the Convention and Visitors Bureau to build a new 300 room convention hotel for $69 million. That is $230,000 per room. With very competitive daily room rates for Corpus Christi downtown hotels, how could the developer of the old courthouse ever be profitable with rooms costing $670,000 more for each?
The article “old courthouse has value we can’t replace” compares its historical value to the Roman Forum and the Greek Acropolis. That’s utterly absurd. The Greek City State of Athens produced the great philosophical thinkers: Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle and the great author Homer. The writing and ideas of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle are still taught and discussed in the great universities of Western nations and are as timely today as then. Homer is still recognized as one of the great authors of all time. Who are Nueces County’s Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and Homer who are worth reading today, much less in a thousand years?
For more than 400 years Rome ruled the entire Western world from the Roman Forum. Roman laws are still the basis for the laws of most Western nations. By comparison Nueces County is only one of 254 Texas counties and Texas is only one of fifty U.S. states. Nothing historical ever happened at the old courthouse. It might be realistic to compare the U.S. Capital Building to the Roman Forum. The article cites Santa Fe, New Orleans, New York and San Antonio as good examples. Real people created real significant history there. Texans would be outraged if someone proposed repurposing the Alamo into a boutique hotel.
I have visited the Roman Forum and Greek Acropolis and walked among the ruins. The ruins speak their eloquent message without interpretation by architects who would repurpose them into boutique hotels. I doubt if the neo-classical old courthouse with its terracotta ornamentation and steel rebar and concrete construction will age so beautifully. I can see it now with its rusty rebars sticking out like porcupine quills and its rust stained concrete looking like drug gang graffiti.
Author: Ralph Coker
Bio: Ralph Coker is a retired petroleum refinery plant manager. He writes on business, economic, political and military topics.