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Ed Rachal Foundation Seeks Another Icon Property

The future of the old Nueces County Courthouse remains a controversial subject, pitting those who want to see the building renovated against those who say it will add more value to the community if it is torn down and replaced with something else. Courtesy photo

The Ed Rachal Foundation wants to purchase the old Nueces County Courthouse and tear it down, even though foundation CEO Paul Altheide said teardown will cost more than the expected increase in property value if the building is removed. The nonprofit also said it would pay $1.5 million in back taxes owed to several taxing districts, including Nueces County, Del Mar College, the city, and Corpus Christi Independent School District.

The courthouse, which was built in 1914 and abandoned in 1977, is only the latest iconic local property of interest to the foundation. The group’s board of directors recently purchased the “castle” house on Ocean Drive and the Frost Bank Tower downtown.

The castle house, which was built by philanthropist Ada Wilson, will be torn down for luxury multi-family townhomes. Work crews recently began tearing down Hacienda Records on Leopard Street, another Ed Rachal property acquisition, which is next door to the Beverly Building, also owned by the foundation. The board is also in the process of buying Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital.

One major obstacle stands in the way of the purchase and subsequent demolition of the old Nueces County Courthouse: the Texas Historical Commission. In 2006, Nueces County commissioners entered into a covenant with the commission in exchange for a $1.5 million grant to pay for safety upgrades to the deteriorating property. The county’s part of the bargain was to keep the building intact with a possibility for renovation.

A plan to turn the building into a luxury hotel almost came to fruition last year when an architect known for restoring old properties signed an agreement with the county to pay the back taxes. Price for the property was $1,000. Then-County Judge Loyd Neal put a stop to the plan last summer, stating that the company was taking too long to pay the taxes and that someone else was interested in it. He also stated his support for tearing down the building.

“The community is no longer willing to tolerate this, and we must do what is right in razing the building now and not wait until 2027,” Neal wrote in a letter to the Texas Historical Commission last September. “As public officials, we owe this to our community, South Texas, and all of Texas to do what is right and to finally put an end to this dangerous and unsightly embarrassment at the gateway to our community.”

The old Nueces County Courthouse is located at the entrance to the S.E.A. District, home to museums, community theater, and the convention center.

Legislation might be in the works to resolve the issue with the Texas Historical Commission. State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa said he would carry a bill this legislative session if necessary. The commission has so far refused to consider changing the agreement.

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