EDINBURG, RGV – ERO Architects CEO Eli R. Ochoa and his team received so-so reviews for the initial design they came up with for Hidalgo County’s new courthouse.
Yes, it looked functional and came in within budget but for many it looked drab and uninspiring, certainly not befitting the eighth largest county in Texas.
While pointing out that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Ochoa went back to the drawing board and came up with something entirely different.
“The new design is a complete departure. That is the beauty of architecture, it is so subjective. You start off on this continuum. You can go from end of the continuum to the exact opposite and that is what we did,” Ochoa told the Rio Grande Guardian.
“The original designs were one end of the continuum. We heard what the commissioners and the county were saying and so we said, let’s go to the complete opposite of the continuum. And if that is kind of off then we will see if we can sort of meet somewhere in the middle. But it turns out that the opposite end of the continuum is what they were looking for and that is what they got. It is nice because we hit the nail on the head.”
A key requirement, Ochoa said, was that the new courthouse blend in with what the City of Edinburg plans to do with the rest of a refurbished and revitalized downtown.
“We needed to design it around something that the City could accept as part of their downtown master plan. And so what I went through, initially, was 12 design metaphors that were all regional, countywide, that kind of respected the land of the people and the history of our area, which is what forms our culture,” Ochoa said.
“So it became a really culturally relevant design for this facility that is unique to the Valley. So, when that building is constructed here it actually has a story that ties to our history and our past and our land. That does not mean the building could not be put somewhere else but if you put it somewhere else it doesn’t have that tie.”
Asked what new features are in the design, Ochoa said:
“One of the features we started with was the orange grove. Another one was the river, ojo de agua. We tied it into UTRGV, we tied it into this city hall. We tied it into the museum across the way. We tied it into the idea of an access or an avenida. If you study our old walkways here in the Valley and our old streets there were all these palm-tree lined streets.
“But, we had to do it in a manner that stayed true to the downtown master plan for the City of Edinburg. They did not want palms so we didn’t use palms. They didn’t want orange trees so we didn’t use orange trees. But, metaphorically, they are still very evident. It is just we are not being so literal with what we are using. So, when we talk about all these design metaphors, they are there but, it is like deconstructing something, they are there in a very subtle way. You start picking up on them once you start seeing the design. That is what makes it so unique.”
Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia said there was a delay in moving forward with the courthouse project because city leaders did not think the initial design worked alongside what the City planned to do with downtown.
“I’m happy very happy with the new design. The previous design was a little clinical, a little drab. That’s why it was delayed some. We wanted it to fit in with the other things we are doing downtown and actually the EDC spent $90,000 to get them to come up with a new plan because we had certain wants, certain needs. It was well worth it because I think now we have arrived at a good point. It’s something we are happy with,” Garcia told the Rio Grande Guardian.
In fact, Edinburg city leaders like the design of the courthouse so much they are willing to pump $30 million into the project. “That’s the way it is. I think everyone is on board. We took a vote to agree to that with a Memorandum of Understanding with Hidalgo County and I don’t expect that to change,” Garcia said.
Edinburg Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Gus Garcia said that in the $158 million price tag for the new courthouse there is about $8.5 million budgeted for infrastructure improvements on the site.
“As you know, the downtown corridor, the downtown square, has suffered from drainage issues for a long time so we are not just getting a better courthouse, we are also getting better drainage and infrastructure around the courthouse area, which is going to be beneficial to any outside investor who wants to go in that center, which helps the city. It really is a win-win, the economic development as well as the indirect improvements, the indirect benefits to the city,” Gus Garcia said.
Asked if the new courthouse project will help revitalize the corridor from the courthouse to I-69 Central, Gus Garcia said: “The community has really wanted us to do something about the 107 eastside corridor and I think the courthouse project will be a catalyst for that development. You are not only going to see the courthouse from the expressway, you are going to have more interest in that eastside 107 corridor. We hope and believe it will spur development.”
Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios, whose precinct includes Edinburg, said he likes what Ochoa and his team have come up with.
“What was released before was just how the skeleton would look like if we approved the floor print. Since then we have worked together with the City of Edinburg to make it a lot softer for the eye, to start merging in some of the concepts within the city council, city hall as well as what is going on within UTRGV. I think we are finally at that point where we have got a good product. It is soft on the eye. It is going to be affordable and I think most everybody will be pleased with it,” Palacios said.
“A county courthouse is always a flagship for government, especially county government. Edinburg is the county seat, the courthouse is right in the middle of the square, there is a lot going on here and we want to make sure that whatever we are doing, it is right in line with what the city is experiencing in growth and what is going on in the university. I think we are right where we need to be.”
City of Edinburg and Hidalgo County leaders will meet at Edinburg City Hall next Tuesday, March 8, to further discuss the new county courthouse project. The meeting starts at 2 p.m.