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Ball's in City's court ... house

If negotiations proceed as expected, the Law West (and South) of the Guadalupe will give way to the Feds -- in one key downtown location. The U.S. General Services Administration announced yesterday that its first choice for a new federal courthouse is the SAPD headquarters at Nueva and Santa Rosa. Last May, the Feds floated three site finalists -- most controversially a tract along the River Walk just south of downtown proper, which was eliminated in January. The new building will contain the district courts currently housed in the John H. Wood Jr. Courthouse, which was originally built to serve as the U.S. Pavilion for HemisFair '68 -- making yesterday's announcement, just days before the April 6 40th anniversary of San Antonio's World's Fair, historically poignant ...

... and potentially a boon for fans of HemisFair Park. The Wood courthouse complex "could be utilized in the negotiation process with the City," said GSA Public Affairs spokeswoman Shala Geer-Smith, although it's too early in the process to pop the champagne corks. "We don't even know if they're interested," she added, and the GSA has to go through an extensive evaluation process to determine if the buildings are still needed before it can dispose of them.

The SAPD site deal will move much more quickly. "We're starting negotiations pretty much immediately," said Geer-Smith, with the hope of concluding them within six months. If for any reason that deal would hit a roadblock, GSA's second site choice is a plot adjacent to the current federal complex.

The SAPD site's size made it the most attractive of the two, said Geer-Smith ("We would be able to locate the whole courts under one building"), and it fits with the area's master plan -- placing the federal courthouse within spitting distance of the county courthouse and annex.

King William and Southtown residents were vehemently opposed to the proposed river location, and Geer-Smith said this, as well as potential historic-site issues, factored into the agency's decision to drop it from the list of contenders. "Absolutely that was a huge con for us," she said. "We never wanted to upset the community."

More interesting SA trivia: The John H. Wood courthouse is named after Judge "Maximum John" Wood, who was known for his tough drug-sentencing laws. Wood was assassinated in 1979 outside his SA home on the orders of Texas drug lorg Jimmy Chagra. Hitman Charles Harrelson, father of actor Woody, was convicted of the crime.




Posted by Elaine Wolff on 4/3/2008
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