A county-owned building that had previously been considered for demolition instead will be redeveloped to keep pace with a growing need for office space and improvements near San Pedro Creek, Bexar County commissioners decided on Tuesday.
An earlier plan to raze the 1950s-era Courthouse Annex Building at 203 W. Nueva St. was intended to make way for green space between the San Pedro Creek Culture Park and the Casa Navarro State Historic Site.
But that idea was scrapped when county staff determined that the building, which houses several departments, could be renovated at a fraction of the cost to build a new building on another property.
“The court asked me to say, ‘Can we knock down this building without feeling some pain?’ and my answer to you is probably not,” said Dan Curry, the county’s facilities management department director.
The cost of the project is estimated at $8 million, Curry said. The $450,000 that had been budgeted for the demolition project and the green space could be put toward the redevelopment cost.
To build a similar-sized structure from the ground up would cost about $22 million based on prices the county has received on other projects out for bid, Curry said.
“I know the building’s not beautiful at the moment, but if the needs of the county are such that we have to have square footage, I think the smartest thing for us to do is to move forward with your plan,” said Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2).
Commissioners unanimously approved the proposal Curry presented and asked staff to move forward with a request for proposals for design and engineering.
The courthouse annex has been renovated twice in its history, in the 1960s and 1990s. Its 45,000 square feet of office space was designed for the specific needs of its current occupants, Curry said.
They include offices for the new preventative health department, facilities management support services, county ombudsman and the staff that manages the county’s small-business program.
Under Curry’s conceptual plan, access to the creekway would be improved and the building’s exterior would be modified.
The three-story, red concrete building sits adjacent a newly opened section of the San Pedro Creek linear park and across the creek from the UTSA School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center, which is set to open in January.
The university has even more plans for the area where development has been burgeoning in the past year.
On Nov. 17, UTSA announced it is planning to spend $124 million to build a new Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Careers building on vacant land next to the annex building. A UTSA official said those plans will be presented to commissioners in December.
The scope of work in the annex building would also include upgrading restrooms, creating a new entrance and signage and converting the first floor into leasable space for retail or a food and beverage tenant.
“We looked at, since we know we have that large need, what can we do to guarantee the use of that building for the next 20 years and make sure that the facility is congruent with all the fantastic redevelopment that’s been happening,” he said.
Commissioners embraced the recommendation, particularly due to the need for office space.
“I think that particular corridor is changing, and it’s going to help enliven that corridor, but more importantly, it’s about what’s in the best interest of our employees and we need the space,” Rodriguez said.
The county also should work with UTSA, he added, on making the annex compatible with its buildings, the creekway and the 1850s adobe residence of Texas patriot José Antonio Navarro.
Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) suggested that county staff look into whether more stories could be added to the annex building and what that would cost.
“I don’t know if we have the capacity financially right now to do that [but] I think it requires kind of another 10,000-foot look at just the growth of the county and always remembering highest and best use of a particularly valuable piece of property,” Calvert said.
Curry said that while it’s not always possible to add stories to an existing building, such an assessment could be conducted using a fraction of the funds that were authorized for the demolition.
Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores (Pct. 1) said she was in favor of redeveloping the building from the start of discussions months ago. “So I’m glad that through your study, you saw that I was right,” she said. “A lot of our county staff really do need the space. I felt that from the beginning when I first got here.”
A fully developed design and project estimate will be presented to the Commissioners Court during the 2023-24 annual budgeting process.