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Athens- 11-06-07

Proposal For New Courthouse Could Kill Downtown Business

Growth and overcrowding at county facilities, problems many East Texas counties are facing. That's the reason some Henderson County officials want to build a new courthouse, away from the downtown square in Athens. That means leaving their current, almost 100 year old, courthouse. For some, that's just not going to work.

The Henderson County courthouse is a historical landmark. Built in 1913 it has been the center of growth for Athens, but now that growth could change directions.

"We are in dire need of more office space. We're in need of more warehouse filing space, because the sheriff's office is busting at the seams with paperwork," said County Judge David Holstein.

The Commissioner's Court has proposed building a new courthouse and possibly a new jail, on 44 acres, north of downtown on Jed Robinson loop. Yet some business owners say this move would destroy the heart and soul of their community.

"It's incumbent of this county government to cherish the asset we have as a county and as Athens, and that's our historic courthouse," said building owner Ann Perryman.

"We're very pleased and happy that Henderson County and Athens is growing, but we also have to keep the things here that are causing us to grow. And I think the beautiful downtown area is one of those things," said business owner Kathy Means.

County officials say they don't intend to pull the plug on downtown business, but are simply looking ahead at their needs.

"We're looking for an option that's not a short-term fix but something that within the next 50 to 100 years will solve our growth issues," said Holstein. 

"I am very sensitive to the fact that there is a definite need for more space for county facilities and parking, but I believe you can get all of that accomplished by expanding our square," said Perryman. 

No matter what, county officials say they intend to use and preserve the old courthouse.

"If another Commissioner's Court says it's not economical to continue using this for administrative purposes it'll be converted into it's original state, the 1913 original state, like a lot of the other counties have done, make it a historical monument," said Holstein. 

The county has not yet hired consultants or made long-term plans on the proposal. They said that even if it passed, it would take years to complete.  

Courtney Lane, Reporting.

clane@kltv.com

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