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  #1  
Old Posted Dec 31, 2010, 10:47 AM
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Courthouses with attached retail or other uses?

Does anyone know of a courthouse that has retail or maybe some other use with it such as commercial office or residential? Are there any that have both or all three uses in one building, or even some that share a block?

The reason I ask is Travis County where Austin is has purchased a block in downtown with plans to build a 17-story courthouse. The property is an entire block with no height restrictions.

The Austin forumers are all kind of mad about it, because the block sits in an area that the City has been trying to redevelop with tons of retail and residential and have it be a lively place. Our fear is that it won't have any street level retail and will make the neighborhood sterile and even kill off pedestrian activity after the courthouse closes everyday. The block is also across the street from a park, and caddy corner to this block there is a federal courthouse currently under construction.

The 2nd gripe with it is that Austin has capitol view corridors set up which create these sight lines to view the Capitol dome from certain places. So some blocks in downtown lie within those view corridors and cause height restrictions on those blocks. What makes us unhappy about it is that this block where the courthouse is planned is the last undeveloped block in downtown that is not affected by the view corridors. So someone could put a 1,000 foot tall building there if they wanted to. But it looks like we're only going to get a 17-story building and may not get any street level retail or any additional height from it being mixed use.

So are there any courthouse highrises or lowrises that are mixed use?
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Old Posted Dec 31, 2010, 2:30 PM
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On the top of my head, I cannot think of any mixed use city halls. I am wondering what is at that location now. Is this new building better than what is there now?

Also, 17 stories is a substantial building. I don't understand the concern for not having a taller building. It seems like there is plenty of space that can be developed and going taller isn't necessary. In fact, two 17 story buildings might be preferable to one 34 story building and an empty lot.
I agree with the concern about creating a pedestrian dead zone.

Sorry, I got off the topic of your original question. I would be very interested in hearing about mixed use city halls if they exist.
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Old Posted Dec 31, 2010, 5:04 PM
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I'd be shocked if it wasn't purely courthouse with no retail, except a quick-e-mart in the lobby maybe.

Courthouses have huge security (crime and terrorism) issues. Federal ones take this farther than county ones generally, but the principles are similar. Nobody -- and certainly no boxes -- gets into the building without going through security. A business can't operate in those conditions. Further, courthouses are usually built with setbacks from the street and other buildings to avoid blast risk though again less so with local courts.

Stores inside courthouses and airports learn to live with security, x-rays of their moichandise. They can do this because they have captive audiences, and because they often charge more.
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Old Posted Dec 31, 2010, 6:41 PM
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(Bing Maps)

Law Courts building in Halifax. The stores were built a few years after the courts/garage were.
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Old Posted Dec 31, 2010, 7:28 PM
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Government buildings like that are, well, done for the government. They have a need and they get buildings designed for that need. If it's a courthouse then it's a courthouse, and the people running it aren't in the retail business. It's the same reason there isn't a residential component to those kinds of projects, they don't want to be landlords and the courthouse has a specific set of government functions to perform, it's not a real estate arm of the government. Aside from that I think ground floor retail is sort of incompatible with the civicness of a government building. imo civic buildings ought to be somewhat monumental and important feeling. I mean, would you want the state capitol building to have ground floor retail?

But just because there isn't ground floor retail doesn't mean that it can't contribute positively to that kind of retail heavy area. There could be a small plaza/pocket park in front of the courthouse, maybe with a small amphitheater for having concerts.

A 17 story building has a lot of workers in it, and a courthouse brings in a lot of people who end up with time to kill, so I think that would be good for the local retail even if there's none in the building itself.

If the area in question is the south east part of downtown, I wouldn't be worried about ground floor retail I'd be worried about the building being ridiculously overscaled. 17 stories is bad enough.
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Old Posted Dec 31, 2010, 8:07 PM
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In my post, I should have said "in 2010, in the US".
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Old Posted Dec 31, 2010, 11:50 PM
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By the way, I should mention that this courthouse is going to be a civil courthouse, not a criminal one. It'll only be dealing with personal lawsuits and things like divorces. Our criminal justice center is 10 blocks away next to the current (old) courthouse.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Expat
Is this new building better than what is there now?
Currently the entire block is used for a parking lot. So yes, anything would be better than that, but we're just hoping to get more out of it. The neat thing about this plan is that Austin's old downtown plan that was designed in the early 1800s by Edwin Waller (who was Austin's first mayor) planned to have certain blocks be used for parks and others for civil uses such as a courthouse. And of course the other blocks were for commercial use. This block in question was originally planned to be Austin's county courthouse block, and there did use to be one on that block before the current county courthouse was built in 1930. That's the other issue, our current courthouse is 80 years old and very cramped for space.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Expat
Also, 17 stories is a substantial building. I don't understand the concern for not having a taller building.
17 floors for a courthouse could potentially mean a building up to 300 feet since courthouses tend to have really high ceilings. So that's not so bad, but why we're wishing for something taller is that block has no height restriction and is the last one with that distinction. Any other block in downtown is either wholly restricted to height because of the capitol view corridors or is partially. It could mean that a building would need to be angular to miss the corridor or have a large setback, or just be short enough to be under it. The blocks that are nearest to the Capitol have the toughest height restrictions. So we have our last block now that could host a really large tall building. We're just wanting to get the most out of this block height-wise, but also make sure it contributes to the street level activity since it's in a very important place, one that is turning into a lively neighborhood now.

Also it kind of sucks because just 2 years ago this block was planned to have a mixed use museum tower that would have been designed by Cesar Pelli. The tower would have been 450 feet tall with 30 floors. It would have had office space above the museum and be wrapped with retail.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mhays
Federal ones take this farther than county ones generally, but the principles are similar.
Yes, the federal courthouse we're getting near the courthouse block is taking top security measures. They'll actually be closing the street that faces the park.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Expat
On the top of my head, I cannot think of any mixed use city halls.
Austin City Hall has retail in it. There's a locally owned coffee house and some other retail that faces the street. It was meant to jump start the retail and residential boom in downtown, and is only 2 blocks from the courthouse block I'm talking about. It's pretty much ground zero for it all, and was one of the first new buildings in that area.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Expat
]I would be very interested in hearing about mixed use city halls if they exist.
You can find some pictures I took of Austin City Hall at the link below. It was designed by Antoine Predock. Some people love it and some hate it. All of the retail in the building faces 2nd Street. The south side (plaza) is for civic uses. The rest of the building contains the council chamber and their offices. You can use the Google Map at that link to see all the new buildings in that area. Most are residential and all of them have retail facing the street. Austin's tallest building is just 2 blocks from city hall.
http://www.emporis.com/application/?...-austin-tx-usa
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Old Posted Jan 1, 2011, 12:06 AM
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We sent an email to the proper people with the county, and got a message back. It sounds like there could be some shared space with it. I would bet it'll be office space. They could even share space with the city if they wanted to.

Quote:
It is highly probable that the County will seek a public/private partnership to maximally utilize this block, including mixed use design and significant private use until such time as the county needs more of the space (this building is intended to serve us for many decades). Thank you for your input.
Quote:
Originally Posted by GoldenBoot
Yes; unless they go through the process of changing the FAR. There is no need take that step, in this case. The block is roughly 1.77 acres; thus, if the building were to take up the entire block, the county would be able to construct an 8-story building with almost 617,000 SF of space (with the current FAR restrictions). As of now, the county is planning on a 500,000 SF structure.

A 17-story tower, covering the entire block, would encompass approximately 1,310,720 SF of space. Therefore, the “tower” portion will not take up the entire block.
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Old Posted Jan 1, 2011, 12:22 AM
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Here's a Google map showing the area. The courthouse block is the one south (below) the Republic Square Park block.

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&sour...01236&t=h&z=17

And here's an aerial image from an article on another project. It shows the courthouse block. It's the one between 360 Condominiums (tower with a spire) and the large dark blue rectangular building (W Hotel & Residences). You can also see our criminal justice center in this pic. It's the white building above The Monarch Condominiums. You can use the interactive building names to help find them.
http://www.statesman.com/business/in...t-1117079.html
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Old Posted Jan 1, 2011, 12:35 AM
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Our civil court is in a mall, but it only deals with minor stuff. Our new criminal courthouse is being built beside that, it will be single use.
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Old Posted Jan 1, 2011, 5:54 PM
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KevinfromTexas, thanks for the clarification. If it is the last lot without height restrictions, I can better understand the concern. Makes perfect sense.

Glad they are protective of the capital sitelines, because it really is an impressive dome. I loved driving north from South Congress and seeing the dome visible between all the beautiful downtown buildings.

By the way, when I mentioned 'city halls', I meant the courthouses you were asking about, not city halls. Don't know how I got derailed. Feeble mind.

Not getting the museum tower is a disappointment, no doubt. Hopefully, the courthouse will be an attractive building. Have any drawings been submitted?
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Old Posted Jan 1, 2011, 11:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Expat View Post
Hopefully, the courthouse will be an attractive building. Have any drawings been submitted?
This is the other part of the problem. While in the minority, I like the idea of the two courthouses being on together on that park and staying downtown. I think it helps keep Austin more walkable rather than making the lawyers who all have their offices downtown drive out of DT to the courthouse. But what you just mention is why I am very worried about this. Travis County has a HORRIBLE track record when it comes to their buildings. They are horrible. =)

Here are some examples



both - http://www.co.travis.tx.us/courts/default.asp
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Old Posted Jan 2, 2011, 2:04 AM
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Well, the old courthouse isn't that bad. It's one of our few examples of art-deco architecture. What made it less attractive were the additions they made later.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BevoLJ
While in the minority, I like the idea of the two courthouses being on together on that park and staying downtown.
I'm not sure I understand that statement. What did you mean? The courthouse that is planned is only a civil one, no criminal cases will be done there. The reason they couldn't build a larger courthouse near their current one is because of the capitol view corridor height restrictions. The county owns several blocks around the courthouse complex, but they can't build very tall on them. That wouldn't be a problem normally, but they need 500,000 square feet of space. For comparison, the criminal justice center has around 211,000 square feet. It has 11 floors and is 204 feet tall. The old courthouse has 6 floors, and around 100,000 square feet and is I think about 110 feet tall.

If they were to include criminal justice space it would likely be more of a security issue, and I think then any shared use would be out of the picture. Keeping it civil at least gives us that chance of having retail or commercial office.
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Old Posted Jan 2, 2011, 2:14 AM
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Ah, sorry. What I meant by the two was the Federal and Travis Counties Civil Courthouse. Ya, if they put the criminal courthouses in there, than security wise it would be a much bigger issue. Although I have seen some nasty divorces. =P
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Old Posted Jan 2, 2011, 6:58 PM
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Someone mentioned putting this building outside of downtown. Is that option on the table? That would be the worst option. It should be downtown so it is accessible to everyone via transit lines. Employees and visitors alike.
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Old Posted Jan 3, 2011, 2:19 AM
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It also needs to be walkable for lawyers.
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Old Posted Jan 3, 2011, 7:43 AM
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Arlington, VA civic complex:

Red = Prison. Includes ground floor retail.
Blue = Court house. Lacks ground floor retail.
Orange = Government offices (ie City Hall). Includes ground floor retail.

The white "M" is a Metro station.

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Old Posted Jan 3, 2011, 4:50 PM
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It looks like more local courthouses have retail than I thought.

But even then, anecdotally, there's been a big difference since the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11.
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Old Posted Jan 4, 2011, 4:42 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Expat View Post
Someone mentioned putting this building outside of downtown. Is that option on the table? That would be the worst option. It should be downtown so it is accessible to everyone via transit lines. Employees and visitors alike.
Ha. Transit lines. The same transit lines (buses) at the location in North Austin those people were mentioning are also in downtown. We don't have light rail, and our commuter rail doesn't go in that direction (yet).

The reasoning for saying they should put it there is the County and the State already have a lot of offices in the area. They could even put up a highrise there. In fact, there are some state office midrises, but nothing above about 150 feet tall.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cirrus
Arlington, VA civic complex:

Red = Prison. Includes ground floor retail.
Blue = Court house. Lacks ground floor retail.
Orange = Government offices (ie City Hall). Includes ground floor retail.

The white "M" is a Metro station.
People really do take for granted sometimes just how awesome Washington is.
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