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Looking again for a new justice complex

Got to do something about this sooner or later.

hall_of_justice

Mayor Sylvester Turner has formed a committee to study how to acquire a new police headquarters and courts complex for Houston.

Former mayor Annise Parker spent more than two years studying how to replace the city’s aging “justice complex” but ultimately abandoned it without having found a viable funding source or getting City Council support for identifying one.

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“Timing is key for the formation of the Justice Complex Commission as the real estate market is experiencing changes due to the sustained slump in oil prices, which has dramatically impacted commercial real estate in downtown and other business districts around the city,” Turner said in a prepared statement. “The decline in energy prices, the extensive development of new commercial buildings and the downsizing of the private sector have created a perfect storm opportunity for the City to consider leasing or purchasing millions of square feet of office space for a project such as the Justice Complex.”

See here and here for some background, and here for the Mayor’s statement. As with most things, this comes down to the price tag and how to pay for it. With this being a dicey time to be discussing capital projects, those questions are even thornier. They’re unlikely to get any less so the longer we wait, so here we are. Good luck with it.

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2 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    It’s a double edged sword. When the economy is weak, tax revenues are down, so there’s less money to spend, but it’s cheaper to buy when the market is soft. The communities that benefit from such conditions are those that honor their fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers by not, for example, underfunding pensions and not spending every last cent they collect. If Houston was in stronger financial shape and had righted the ship when oil was $ 140 a barrel and the city was awash with cash, it would have reserves now to buy bargain basement space for a new justice complex right now.

  2. Steve Houston says:

    Former Mayor Parker gave city council a binary choice, either a sprawling mega complex or nothing but patching up existing problems with low bid workers, so they reacted accordingly. Turner doesn’t typically do business that way so he will likely include them on studying the issues and coming to a compromise, ironing out the details long before it gets to a vote.

    One of your frequent fliers here, Paul Kubosh, is a local traffic ticket attorney that spends countless hours in part of the complex said to be falling down around folks. While he has not likely inspected the building’s water, AC, and other amenities in detail, he has stated a number of times in the past that the condition of the building appears to be okay in most observable ways. This food for thought is offered up in contrast to what was being sold under Parker as to how the court building was on its last legs and just about ready to disintegrate.

    By trying to jam a complex estimated to cost over a billion dollars to start, Parker overplayed things and here we are years later with many of the same questions. We know from city council sessions that the ground around the court and old police headquarters is contaminated, remediation work already started as the rusted out old gas storage tanks were pulled up not long ago, and it is common knowledge that all of the older buildings have asbestos problems that were not fixed the first few times taxpayers shelled out gobs of money to fix them (in fairness, asbestos use was common in building construction for a long time but we rarely hear about it unless it is tied to a public facility).

    But failing infrastructure is much like pension funding, no one wants to spend the pennies to avert the dollars that will be needed from waiting too long for an expenditure that doesn’t buy votes like handouts and other frills do. Everyone that responded to my inquiries made it clear that a lot of what was driving up the costs of the initial proposal was how everyone at the top of the ladder wanted every bell and whistle available rather than a serviceable set of structures. That’s understandable, look at how much the proposed Memorial Park upgrades started costing when the designed started adding in everything suggested, the price ballooning to the point where they stopped talking about price after it went over a billion dollars.

    How much work really needs to be done? Can it be done more affordably by better contractors than the “friends of city hall” contractors that were used to get estimates in round one? Spending other people’s money comes much easier for some than others and now that some of the dead wood has been sent to pasture, maybe we’ll get better answers under Mayor Turner.