By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
As originally published in Texas Border Business newsprint edition August 2020.
In 1988, the McAllen office of the United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Texas opened by leasing an eleven-floor all-black facility located on old Business Highway 83 and Bicentennial. The building was originally the site of the Texas Commerce Bank.
Even though the area and the building were not suitable for a federal court activity, they adapted it and made it work. Today that is no longer the case.
Ricardo H. Hinojosa, the United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, has worked diligently on a project that is finally paying off, the construction of a brand-new facility designed exclusively for a federal court. The tract of land intended for the courthouse is a much larger space, with easy access to the expressway.
Many people helped to get the project to this point. One of them is Congressman Henry Cuellar, who secured $1 billion for the construction and land acquisition for federal courthouses in the U.S. House fiscal year 2021 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill.
With that allocation of funds, the Southern District of Texas in McAllen Texas will receive partial funds to complete the project, about $98 million.
The McAllen Courthouse was previously ranked #3 in priority of funding and dropped on the list for some reason. With an additional $100 million, this would allow for the total completion of the project. If the list had remained at its prior status, the Southern District Courthouse would have been covered through this allocation of money.
At the end of July 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the FY21 Financial Service and General Government Appropriations bill, which includes the federal funding for the federal courthouses. The Senate also just passed their Appropriations bills, after which the two Chambers conference to agree on a final version to send to the President to sign into law.
Once the Appropriations bills are law, the money will be allocated to the General Service Administration for allocation in the fiscal year 2021, which begins in October 2020.
The City of McAllen has been instrumental in this project. They offered to donate five acres for the new courthouse at the site where the old Sam Houston School was, at Jackson Avenue and 16th Street, a few blocks from City Hall. Currently, the land is valued at $1.5 million.
But what motivated Congressman Cuellar to take on the task to secure funding? According to his office, the construction of a new federal courthouse in McAllen will help the federal government meet the needs of a growing caseload and further enhance robust change occurring in and around downtown.
The McAllen federal courthouse’s investments will create economic growth in communities adjacent to McAllen while addressing the space constraints and aging infrastructure of the current federal courthouse. It will also address the growing federal adjudication demands for the entire Southern District of Texas, including those across the Rio Grande Valley.
General Services Administration (GSA) currently leases a building that is insufficient for adequate security and an increasing caseload. Congressman Cuellar secured a study in 2016 by GSA to identify the feasibility of the construction of a new federal courthouse. The GSA study concluded that while the current facility located on U.S. Business 83 may be adequate for federal executive offices, the existing building is inadequate for judicial functions.
Once the bill becomes law, we look forward to seeing when the GSA allocates the funding for this federal court that is very important to the Rio Grande Valley.
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