SAN ANTONIO — A bi-partisan crowd of political leaders gathered at a vacant lot in the 200 block of West Nueva Street to outline a long-overdue plan to build a new federal courthouse downtown.
Judge Xavier Rodriguez, who said he has invested about 15 years in the planning, said “This much needed project has been a long time in coming.” The price tag for the project is $117.4 million dollars.
It will house the judges and staff of the federal Western District of Texas, a division that covers 92,000 square miles of territory and 50 counties. “In terms of size, our district is bigger than 40 states," Judge Rodriguez said.
Members of the local Congressional delegation said with a price tag this big, it took years of team effort to get this project to the top of the federal funding list. All who spoke gave credit to Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg exclaimed, "Finally! Bipartisanship, as exemplified today, is alive and well in San Antonio, Texas and thank God for that!"
"You wouldn't think, especially now, that bipartisanship exists in Washington DC, but the only way we were able to get this done is by working together," Congressman Will Hurd (TX-23) said.
The current federal courthouse, the John H. Wood building, was constructed as a movie theater for Hemisfair ’68. Because it was not designed for prisoners, the building has numerous challenges related to safety.
"Again and again, we came back to the fact that the current courthouse is not as safe as it should be," Joaquin Castro (TX-20) said.
Castro said a well-designed new facility will be good for the judiciary, as well as the many members of the public who must conduct business at the courthouse. “This will make sure that we have a modern, state-of-the-art courthouse that will be safe for everyone,” Castro said.
"The case load of judges on the border is huge," Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) said.
Cuellar said because the Texas border is a hot zone now, the workload is bigger than ever. “When you have more border patrol agents, you have more cases so it's important that we added a new courtroom here in San Antonio,” Cuellar said.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff detailed how the new facility will be an anchor tenant that will lift up a large parcel in west downtown. Wolff pointed out that the new building will be adjacent to the Public Safety Headquarters, the new addition to the UTSA downtown campus, the Bexar County Courthouse, easy access parking garages and the new San Pedro Creek Culture Park development.
“When we can come together, really good things happen and when you look around, you begin to see the significance of why this is a good place," Wolff said.
New U.S. Marshal Susan Pamerleau said as the project moves forward, federal prisoners that are currently housed at a GEO facility across the street from the new site will be relocated.
Pamerleau said the old GEO lockup will be demolished and federal detainees will move to renovated space near the current Bexar County Jail, an expense she said will be shouldered by GEO.
“GEO will move in and renovate that space, and rather than the county having to spend six or seven million dollars, GEO will spend that money on renovating that space and that will allow federal inmates to be housed,” Pamerleau said.
They said they expect to break ground in about five months, with a ribbon cutting scheduled for the start of 2022.