Travis County Voters Narrowly Reject Courthouse Bond

November 5, 2015 by Kate Harrington

In an election that saw very low voter turnout, the Travis County Civil and Family Courts Complex bond lost by a slim margin.

The $287 million bond seemed like it was going to pass as votes were tallied on Nov. 3, but in the end it lost by approximately 1,000 votes out of about 73,000 votes.

Supporters od the bond wanted to build a new courthouse on half a block at Fourth and Guadalupe Streets to replace the more than 80-year old Sweatt Courthouse, saying the central location near transit lines would make it easier for those without cars to access.

But opponents, including the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA), said while they supported a new civil courthouse, they did not support putting it on valuable downtown land.

“By constructing the new courthouse on an expensive downtown parcel with great development potential, Travis County is depriving Austin (and itself) the tax base of that location,” Ward Tisdale, RECA president, wrote in a recent RECA blog. “A private development that made the most of this block’s entitlements would result in hundreds of millions of dollars in local tax revenue in the coming decades.”

Although state law mandates that the County cannot ask voters for approval on another bond related to this project for three years, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said plans to build a new courthouse will still move forward. Eckhardt also spoke to the low voter turnout in this election, saying it was “not a rejection of the project or the location. It was lack of interest in our democracy.”

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Written by Kate Harrington

Kate is a former reporter, most recently for the Austin Business Journal, where she covered real estate, economic development and transportation. Since 2010 she has been running Thumbtack Communications. Thumbtack provides writing, editing and marketing services. Before moving to Austin in 2002 Kate lived in her native New England, which she still visits often to escape the Texas heat.