Over the last decade, the Austin Museum of Art has attempted to build a new downtown museum on the south side of Republic park multiple times. With a prime lot (now a parking lot) between 3rd and 4th street off Guadalupe, the museum aimed to be a cultural anchor for the second street and warehouse districts.
Today, Travis County announced that they have entered into an agreement to purchase the lot for $21.75 million to build a county courthouse. For downtown Austin, this is a disaster.
First, it raises the question of why the county would use tax payer money to buy one of the most expensive parcels in the city for a courthouse. Second, they seem ignorant to the fact that a county courthouse will kill the block. With government buildings on all sides of the square, there will likely be no retail, no commercial, and no residential uses. The new 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.
While development options may be limited in today’s stressed commercial lending environment, this is not a time that we need the county to step in. Hopefully, there is still time for the county to reconsider and find a different lot that better uses taxpayer money and that preserves what is evolving to be one of the most dynamic and high-potential corners of downtown.