Nueces County Commissioners have thrown their support behind the Texas Historical Commission's recommendation to turn the county’s 1916 Courthouse into a $68 million hotel.
Before that can happen though, the county needs to hire experts to give the old building a physical of sorts.
Wednesday's Commissioners Court agenda item which calls for the county to publish Requests for Qualifications goes back to a grant awarded to the county four months ago. In May, THC gave preliminary approval for a $150,000 grant to assess the condition of the old courthouse. The THC grant is part of a $12.3 million National Parks Service program to preserve historic buildings in areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma.
“Things are moving along, and we're trying to get ahead of the process before it's approved so that we don't have to do this, we're ready to go when we get that approval,” said Carolyn Vaughn, Nueces County Commissioner for Precinct 1.
Final grant approval is expected any day now. Once the county has it, Commissioners will hire a structural engineer and preservation architect for that assessment. That process begins Wednesday.
“We're taking some steps that weren't taken before,” said Vaughn. “We've got seven years to do nothing, so at least we're being proactive; and we're going to know in the next couple years if this is going to work.”
The historical commission won't let the county tear the old courthouse down until after 2027. THC has helped restore 70 other county courthouses across the state and wants Nueces Co. to be number 71.
“They're on board for this,” said Vaughn. “I don't know if they had that the last time they were doing it, but the historical commission wants to see it happen.”
With this full court press, Vaughn believes the old courthouse will find a new lease on life. She's also excited about what that could mean for the county, and the city.
“If we get this done, it's going to give the city hope that we're on the move to change things for the future,” said Vaughn. “If we can save it, save it. It's a great part of history for our city, so why not save it if you can?”
Once these assessments are finished, the county can start looking for a developer. That developer would still have to pay the back property taxes, a bill which keeps accruing interest. However, tens of millions of dollars are available through incentives and grants to help offset the costs.