Smith County commissioners agree on ‘most practical location’ for new courthouse

Commissioners eye east side of square for potential new courthouse

Smith County commissioners agree on ‘most practical location’ for new courthouse

TYLER, TEXAS (KLTV) - When Smith County commissioners started looking at possible locations for a proposed courthouse, the east side of the downtown square wasn’t even on their radar.

“It was not an original site that we were considering,” Judge Nathaniel Moran said.

But now the site, currently occupied by several pieces of private property, seems to be the top pick among commissioners.

“East edge of the square is going to be my choice,” Commissioner JoAnn Hampton said.

“I think it just makes more sense to put it there over any other location,” Commissioner Cary Nix said.

This image was shown to commissioners by architects at Tuesday's meeting.
This image was shown to commissioners by architects at Tuesday's meeting.

When it comes to advantages for the east side, architects found the site ranked highest among the five possible locations.

According to commissioners, advantages for this site include the possibility of keeping the current courthouse and maintaining a short tunnel length from the jail to the courthouse. They also believe staging would be easier and associated costs would be lower. Disadvantages of this location include forcing out 11 property owners and destroying several historic buildings.

This image shows private property that the county would need to acquire before building on the property. The locations in orange are already owned by the county.
This image shows private property that the county would need to acquire before building on the property. The locations in orange are already owned by the county.

There was also talk on Tuesday of a possible parking structure with a connecting sky-bridge.

“We are really just in the conceptual design stage and there’s a lot more to talk about in details as we move forward,” County Judge Nathaniel Moran said. “But one of the things we want to talk about is a potential sky-bridge between this new parking structure and the courthouse structure. That would be something that would take jurors out of the elements when they have to traverse after they park."

John O’Sullivan owns one of the private properties that would be affected by the new courthouse. His plans for the old ‘New York Store’ on the corner of East Erwin St. and North Spring Ave. were to restore it back to what it once was. Something he’s done with several downtown properties.

“We were in the process of demolition work and actually all the drawings were done,” O’Sullivan said.

O’Sullivan told the court on Tuesday that after talking with some of his downtown tenants, he found the possible site of the center of the square to be potentially harmful to downtown businesses. He told the court that he finds the east side of the square to be the most practical location.

“We’d lose one piece of property, but enhance the others that we own downtown," O’Sullivan said.

Judge Moran noted that no plans were finalized today. The county will continue to gather input until putting up a proposed plan for a vote in November.

SITE PREMIUM COMPARISON:

East edge of square: $3.0 Million

Juror parking: $12.8 Million

Center of square: $14.4 Million

Ferguson east of railroad: $17.7 Million

Center of Broadway: $18.3 Million

Advantages and disadvantages of possible locations, according to Smith Co. commissioners. Advantage scores provided by architects:

  • East Side of Square: The most advantages (850) were found on the east side of the square. This space is currently occupied by several buildings on the east side of the current courthouse. According to commissioners, advantages for this site include the possibility of keeping the current courthouse and maintaining a short tunnel length from the jail to the courthouse. They also believe staging would be easier and associated costs would be lower. Disadvantages of this location include forcing out 11 property owners and destroying several historic buildings.
  • Reunified Square Elongated and Compact: These two possible sites would both require the permanent closure of Broadway Avenue. There are two possibilities for this location, one of them a more compact building, and the other elongated. The elongated plan scored higher (740) than the compact plan (700). Pros include the fact that the county would not have to buy the property from a private owner. Commissioners also said surveys show community members prefer this centralized location. Cons listed by commissioners include the closure of Broadway Avenue, effects on downtown businesses, and the requirement of four “grand” sides all around the building.
  • Juror Parking: On the other side of Fannin Avenue, there is the possible location of juror parking, which was scored with 700 advantages. Benefits listed by commissioners include the ability to keep the current courthouse and the fact that Broadway Avenue wouldn’t be affected along with any businesses. Cons listed include the railroad running right in front of the building and the possible related issues affecting the proposed jail tunnel. The county would also have to buy up five pieces of private property.
  • County-Owned Property: This location (scored at 575) was proposed by Commissioner Jeff Warr. The property currently occupies the county elections office and other county facilities. The pros listed include the opportunity to keep the current courthouse and keep Broadway Avenue open. Commissioners said this location would require the relocation of four county-owned buildings and historic buildings along East Ferguson. There’d also have to construct a very lengthy jail tunnel.
Rendering of what the new courthouse could look like at the favored location.
Rendering of what the new courthouse could look like at the favored location.

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