Bexar County commissioners approved the sale of a downtown property that served for years as a correctional facility to the University of Texas at San Antonio on Tuesday. 

According to the contract between the university and Bexar County, UTSA will pay the county $5.7 million for the 2-acre parcel of land that the Central Texas Detention Facility occupies, and the County is responsible for demolishing the jail and preparing the property for construction.

UTSA President Taylor Eighmy told commissioners at their Tuesday meeting that the county’s support for the university to expand its downtown campus would improve San Antonio as a whole.

“This is going to impact the trajectory of our university,” he said. “It’s going to greatly impact the trajectory of our city at the same time.”

Tony Canez, program coordinator for the Office of the County Manager, assured commissioners that approving the sale on Tuesday still allows for flexibility when it comes to negotiating unexpectedly high costs with demolition. Commissioners will be notified when spending on demolishing the detention facility hits $2.5 million.

“It sounds like in a worst-case scenario,” Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2) said. “If there are environmental issues on the demolition side … we’ll still have that opportunity to have that discussion. That was my main concern. I want to make sure we’re fully aware of costs involved.”

County commissioners and the U.S. Marshals Service agreed last January to move federal detainees to other facilities. GEO Group, a private company that operated at the Central Texas Detention Facility, was originally given until April to transfer all detainees out of the jail but were able to find new places to house them earlier than expected, County spokeswoman Monica Ramos said. The detainees were moved to other facilities that GEO Group operates.

The County-owned parcel sits between two other pieces of land that the City of San Antonio has already sold to UTSA. With those three contiguous pieces of land, UTSA plans on building its new School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center. The land occupied by the former federal detention center will be used to build the university’s College of Business extension, Eighmy said.

The UTSA Downtown Campus Master Plan

The university does not have an estimated cost or construction date for the College of Business downtown building at this time, Eighmy said. UTSA requested $126.3 million in tuition revenue bond funding during the last legislative session, which the Texas Legislature uses to fund capital projects at public institutions. Their request was unsuccessful; the Legislature did not approve any tuition revenue bond funding that session.

“We can outright purchase the property, but we have to work in funding for actual construction funding,” he said. “We’ll go back to the Legislature [to request funding].”

Eighmy plans to take the County contract to the University of Texas System Board of Regents in February. The County anticipates closing the land transfer by late 2020 or early 2021.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.