EDINBURG, RGV – Hidalgo County Judge candidate Eloy Pulido says if he wins election he will insist that any county courthouse project be put to the voters if that project exceeds $90 million.
Pulido said he came up with the $90 million benchmark because he has been talking to private investors who believe they can build a courthouse for this price next to I-69 Central, otherwise known as Highway 281.
The plan Hidalgo County Commissioners Court is working on would see a new courthouse built on the current courthouse square at a cost of 150 million.
“I believe we could engage real experts to build our new courthouse, such as those who built the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, the Oklahoma State Capitol, and the Dallas Cowboys Stadium. I have got all the information,” Pulido said.
“We talked about this before as a county. Back in the day the total package, land included, was $90 million. They were even willing to finance it for the county. Maybe it has gone up since then but maybe we can save $60 million for the taxpayers. You don’t think that is important?”
Pulido says Hidalgo County Commissioners Court is moving too fast on the courthouse project and not looking at all the options. He said the investors he is talking to are “really excited” about the project.
“We need to speak to private investors, if they say they can do it. At least visit with them, like I have. They are very excited about the project. It is a win-win-win, the City of Edinburg wins, Hidalgo County wins, the taxpayers win. It is a common-sense plan,” Pulido said.
“The best part about it, the design I have seen is old Spanish Colonial. It is very elegant. I am now proposing that anything over $90 million go to the taxpayers for approval. Or else it will not get done. We do not want three people (on commissioners’ court) to shove it down the throats of the voters.”
In a previous interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Pulido proposed leaving the county’s administration offices in the current courthouse and building a new “justice center” next to Hwy 281. “That way, we can keep the City of Edinburg happy and make it easier for county residents to get to the courtrooms, to do jury duty, etc. We can spur a whole new growth corridor by the expressway if we build a justice center next to 281. It can still be in Edinburg,” Pulido said.
Terry Canales’ view
Pulido is not the only high-profile figure in Hidalgo County voicing concerns about the proposed courthouse project. State Rep. Terry Canales, who represents most of Edinburg, sent a letter to Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia on Tuesday asking lots of questions. The letter is published at the end of this story.
In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Canales voiced his concerns.
“We know we need more courtrooms already. The Board of Judges knows it. The State of Texas knows it We are growing so fast. My question is, how much will those additional courtroom cost and when will they be built? Are they going to wait until the middle of the construction and then give a change order, popping another $50 million on it?” Canales asked.
“Another question I have is about parking. I have heard people say the City of Edinburg will take care of parking for the new courthouse. I have not heard the City say it will build parking garages.”
Canales said wherever a new courthouse gets built, Hidalgo County must plan for the long-term.
“This is not a five-year project or a ten-year project, this is a 100-year project. This is the biggest project the county will probably build in the next 100 years, in terms of buildings. We need to be forecasting where the population base will be. That is north Edinburg,”
“Nobody has done any studies that look at the future growth. There has been a complete lack of transparency, a complete lack of accountability. Almost everybody in the judicial community agrees, we need a new courthouse. What we don’t need is a boondoggle. We need to get it right and make sure the taxpayers get a good bang for their buck.”
One location Canales would like to see Hidalgo County Commissioners Court and the City of Edinburg look at is the golf course on Freddy Gonzalez.
“Edinburg owns two golf courses, Los Lagos and the 60-acre plot on Freddy Gonzalez. It is an interesting proposition because even if the City gave the County 20 acres for the courthouse, there is still 40 acres to develop around it. And it is close enough to the Expressway. It is another option that needs to be considered,” Canales said.
Canales has also been giving thought to what could be done with the current courthouse if a new one is built somewhere else in Edinburg.
“Now we know the County is not going to lose the current courthouse, even if they don’t use it as a courthouse, other things can be considered. We could use if for a new campus for South Texas College, perhaps a county community college, perhaps UTRGV could use it because the university is growing leaps and bounds. There are so many more options, and nobody seems to be thinking outside the box. They seem to be thinking only inside the courthouse square.”
In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Canales also expressed concern about the $150 million price tag for a new courthouse on the courthouse square.
“My research shows the most expensive courthouse in the nation built since 2012 was built in New York City, it was built for $280 per square foot. The estimations I have heard, and they may have changed, is that our courthouse is going to cost $480 a square foot. That is absolutely absurd. There is no way New York can build one for $200 per square foot cheaper than Hidalgo County,” Canales said.
“In addition to that, they are building a VA Center close to San Antonio and they are building that at $320 per square foot. Hospitals have a lot more technical equipment and technicalities and rules they have to follow, with oxygen lines and outlets and other things. How is it that a courtroom is going to cost almost $100 more a square foot than a VA Hospital? Somebody needs to answer.”
Here is Rep. Canales’ letter to Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia:180117-Rep_Terry_Canales_Questions_on_Proposed_Courthouse Project