The Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously voted earlier this month to place the fate of their new 14-story downtown courthouse in the hands of voters. This past winter, I took a strong stance against the Courthouse occupying prime real estate in Austin to build a silo of a structure that in no way relates to the neighborhood it will inhabit.
Suffice it to say: I recognize the current courthouse is overwhelmed and under-equipped.
Rather than rehash the points of my argument, I’d like to instead highlight something picked up on Keep Austin Wonky that proposal advocate Judge Eric Shepperd touched on this summer.
During a community forum hosted by AURA in July, Judge Shepperd talked about keeping the space “alive after five.” Keep Austin Wonky indicated that Judge Shepperd said it is a priority.
Hat tip to Judge Shepperd for this comment. Can we now get some specifics?
We need only look to the federal courthouse on any given night. The thing is a mausoleum after the last gavel of the day slams.
At the time, the federal courthouse made sense. It erased a community embarrassment. But a dead building in Austin is not acceptable. Downtown Austin distinguishes our collective piece of dirt from every other post-WW2 American piece of dirt.
I’m pleased by Judge Shepperd’s comments; however, the community deserves more than a Judge voicing his opinion at a community event. The proposal from the Commissioners Court needs to include specific promises, and details on how those promises will be upheld, regarding how it will keep the courthouse “alive after five.”
A political action group has amassed a war chest in excess of $130,000 to lobby the public vote for this courthouse. To that end, they launched newcourtsforfamilies.com but fail to include any specifics backing up Judge Shepperd’s claim that keeping the space activated after five o’clock is indeed a priority.
Let’s assume that Commissioners Court Judge Sarah Eckhardt meant what she said when she said “we really have run every possible track about where we can build this courthouse.” (It’s an easy assumption to make, because on the whole I believe she is one of the more thoughtful, pragmatic and no-nonsense public servants we have.)
It would be a shame if the courthouse is approved, only to box in Republic Square Park on another side with another nine-to-five security apparatus and five-to-nine mausoleum.
Lets encourage Judge Eckhardt and Judge Shepperd to start detailing how they will keep this space alive after five, and woven into the community fabric. The vast majority of Central Texans will never step foot into this proposed public building, and for them the missing details – how this proposal really fits with its surroundings – are the most important details of the entire Courthouse proposal.