Homeless advocates may try to acquire old federal courthouse

At least two homeless advocacy groups are looking into acquiring the old federal court house downtown.

The deadline to submit proposals is just a few weeks away.

Built in 1935, the old Austin federal courthouse at 8th and Lavaca has sat locked up and empty for nearly four years. Court cases are now heard in this multi-million dollar facility located a few blocks away.

Sherry Thompson who frequently walks by the art deco building from her downtown job believes it’s time to fill it again with people. "Yeah I mean, put it to use, I'm pretty sure it’s a landmark or something."

The site is considered historic, but in May it was also designated as surplus property by the General Services Administration. In a statement to FOX7, Spokesperson Tina Jaegerman said, the "GSA has received interest from different organizations that are working on submitting applications for public benefit purposes such as homeless assistance and historic preservation of the building.”

Raymond Ancioa, who likes to sit on the courthouse steps, believes if a homeless group moves in, crime could follow. He is worried the business district could end up looking like the area around the Arch. "Yes, to me the same thing, what happened at the Arch will happen over here, because they got no respect at all,” said Ancioa.

But Santiago Flores says the corner could be a good location to help the local transient community because it’s a major public transportation stop. "Because if you go to the library, where I’m headed now, there are plenty of homeless people there, and they have to do something with these people, they are not going to go away,” said Flores.

Turning the old courthouse into another downtown homeless shelter is not expected to happen.

Federal Officials say formal proposals, from the Homeless advocates, are in September, the 14th for one group and the 26th for the other. Full details may not be available until later this Fall. "I don't think they are looking at it as a shelter, but making it housing, with support services,” said Walter Moreau with Foundation Communities.

Moreau said they're not one of the groups bidding on the building. He did tell FOX 7 that Austin Echo is one of the organizations, as well as Front Steps. Mitchell Gibbs, Executive Director with Front Steps, which operates the Arch, tells FOX 7 they have expressed interest but have not yet submitted a proposal. Officials with the GSA say the advocacy groups are being sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services.

"I haven't been in the courthouse building, but I know it is historic, so that’s a big consideration, I know the county needs the courthouse space, that’s been part of the conversation, so it’s has yet to be determined, what is the best community benefit for a building like that,” said Moreau.

FOX 7 has confirmed that Travis County is also trying to acquire the building.

It needs the extra courtroom space after a bond proposal to build a new facility was rejected by voters last year. County officials say they will wait until November before a proposal is submitted.

The National Parks Service will review the county plan.

Federal officials have not said when they will make a selection, but indicated the process is now moving quickly.

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