Plan in Works to Develop 1914 Nueces County Courthouse

It takes just a spark -- or a text message, rather -- to set in motion a historic event.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports after learning of her father's new job as a project manager for an Ohio-based restoration company, Colleen Simpson snapped a picture of the historic 1914 Nueces County Courthouse during her commute to work.

"Ever since I moved here, I always thought it was so sad that it was blocked off and falling apart," said Simpson, a Flour Bluff resident. "I think I sent him a text message followed up with some emails and started researching the courthouse. The more I learned about it, the more special it seemed."

More than a year later, her father, Jim McCue, and his employer Steve Coon with Coon Restoration and Sealants, and Stephen Goodman, a Fort Worth-based financier, have signed a sales agreement with Nueces County for the courthouse at 1100 N. Mesquite St. for $1,000. The developers will have to pay about $1.5 million in back taxes owed by previous private owners by the end of a 90-day due diligence period.

"What this will do is begin the process where we have an opportunity to have Nueces County Courthouse Development Partners to come in and purchase the 1914 courthouse and restore it to its original grandeur," Commissioner Mike Pusley said.

Coon said the courthouse is ground zero for restoring downtown.

"The problem is that local people are so close to these really cool buildings that have been vacant for so long that these buildings become invisible," Coon said. "You've got me as an outsider coming in, and it's the first thing I see. It's like, `Boy, why aren't they developing this?"'

The developers will begin inspection and plans immediately. Coon said it could be about nine months before construction starts and about two years after that until it's done.

"It's probably one of the most solid buildings in the city, so we've got to figure out exactly what we're going to do," he said. "It looks like after talking with Steve (Goodman), we're leaning toward a hotel route."

The group will work with the Texas Historical Commission to receive state tax credits on the historic preservation.

"Strong local involvement is essential for historic preservation, and what we've seen with the courthouse is a great example of that," said Chris Florance, spokesman with the historical commission. "They've demonstrated a real commitment to that building over the years. We're looking forward to supporting them as they work and ensure this iconic structure continues to make a contribution to the community in the future as it has in the past."

Preserving an authentic building like the courthouse makes economic sense, Florance said.

"We've really seen in communities across the state that there's a good impact to economic development of downtowns from historic preservations," he said. "It's been a part of the city's landscape for so long."

Anita Eisenhauer with the Nueces County Historical Commission was one of the first people to speak with McCue about the courthouse when negotiations began more than a year ago. Eisenhauer called it a "gleam of hope."

"These marquee projects do start economic development," Coon said. "Sometimes you gotta jump out of a plane without a parachute hoping you can get someone to throw you one before you hit the ground. It's worked for me.

"I can identify the projects that will work. I'm positive that this will work, and I think it will be a catalyst for a lot of work to come."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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