Ignoring public criticism and without a public process, Travis County closed on a prime downtown block just South of Republic Square in downtown Austin for $21.75 million. With this transaction, Republic Square is likely destined to become a dead block surrounded by government buildings.
As a result of the transaction, the prime park block is unlikely to have retail, restaurants, or adjacent residents. In evenings and on weekends the buildings will be dark and deserted. As we originally reported, the new 17-story courthouse will create a dead zone on one of the most important vacant lots in the City. With the County’s record, the architecture will be uninspiring and won’t be engaging. Republic park — one of the few downtown open spaces — will be cut off from the emerging second street district and historic warehouse district. The move will also remove a prime block from the tax rolls, limiting available funds for future downtown development.
While the lot purchase is a strong signal of the county’s intentions, they do not have the funds to complete the project. As a result, the county must initiate a multi-hundred-million dollar bond election in order to fund the project. Hopefully, the project will be voted down at that point.
Significant opposition to the project sprung up as soon as the project was announced. A Facebook group dedicated to stopping the courthouse project can be found here. Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe publicly stated that he has not heard much criticism and seems open to hearing from the community on this issue (firstname.lastname@example.org).