Tag Archives: Randall County Courthouse

Courthouses need not remain empty … period!

I visited this week with a Northeast Texas county judge who is overseeing the restoration of a courthouse structure that he intends to reopen in its original splendor.

The work is being done in Bonham, the Fannin County seat. I am preparing a story for KETR-FM public radio on the project, so I won’t scoop myself with detail about that restoration effort.

I reminded the county judge, Randy Moore, about what happened to Randall County’s renovation of its historic courthouse. He knew all about it.

What happened in Canyon? The county obtained a historical preservation grant and used the money to restore the exterior of its 1909 courthouse. It finished that work, but along the way relocated all its government functions off-site.

The interior of that building remains empty. The outside looks great! It’s gorgeous. The county courthouse square is well-groomed. The area surrounding the square is full of businesses bustling with activity. There are antique shops, coffee shops, restaurants … you name it.

Despite all that success and the economic benefit that Canyon and Randall County have accrued from the project, I continue to wish that the county can find a feasible tenant who can occupy the courthouse structure.

Randy Criswell, the former Canyon city manager, told me once about a study the city did to determine whether it could relocate its City Hall in the historic courthouse. The city decided it could not. It was too costly.

My visit with the Fannin County judge, though, does restore my faith in a county’s commitment to retaining its courthouse functionality. To that end, I applaud Judge Moore’s strongly stated desire to ensure that Fannin County’s courthouse will be restored and reoccupied eventually, serving the county as its center of government.

I consider Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell to be a friend and I long have admired the work he has done to shore up the county’s economic health.

I also have admired his deal-making skill, as exhibited — for example — in what he has brought to the Texas Panhandle Veterans Memorial in south Amarillo next to where the county annex used to sit.

My hope for Randall County is that Judge Houdashell can work his magic again to get to the old courthouse structure in the square in Canyon occupied. It deserves the same quality of life that has come to the area surrounding the square.

Old courthouse turns into a business magnet

Time for a mea culpa.

I was an adamant foe of an effort to spend public money to revive a long-abandoned county courthouse in Randall County. I voted against a referendum that called for such an expenditure.

It turned out that I was among the minority of voters. Most of them who voted in Randall County approved the expenditure of public funds to refurbish the exterior of the courthouse building that was erected in1909. The county abandoned it some years ago, relocating many functions on the other side of Canyon, Texas.

The county finished the outside of the building. The inside remains empty. It hasn’t been touched.

One of the initial foes of that public expenditure was Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell. The judge is one of my better friends in public life. I admire the lifelong Republican politician greatly. I thought he was correct to oppose spending public funds on the courthouse building.

He has turned the corner. Why? Because the Canyon Square has sprung back to life. Various businesses have filled virtually all the empty storefronts on the square. Downtown Canyon is brimming with life. Houdashell credits the old courthouse structure as being the magnet that has drawn the businesses downtown.

The City of Canyon looked for a time at moving into the courthouse building, but then backed out when it determined it couldn’t rehabilitate the building in a cost-effective manner for municipal purposes.

I don’t have the vaguest notion where the county is going with the structure. It still owns the building. It won’t reinstall any county government functions in the 109-year-old building. Its Justice Center is functioning across the street from West Texas A&M University; the old finance building serves as the headquarters for the commissioners court across the street from the old courthouse.

However, the 1909 courthouse building looks spiffy and well-groomed in the middle of the square. The storefronts surrounding the building are busy.

Judge Houdashell, once a staunch critic of the old structure, now is one of its biggest fans. I, too, am a believer in what has happened.

Life is good in downtown Canyon. Who knew?

Randall County office also set for major makeover

I have been commenting from time to time about the extreme makeover under way in downtown Amarillo.

Given that I don’t get out quite as much as I did when I worked for a living, I recently discovered another makeover project for which many Randall County employees — and perhaps residents, too — have been waiting.

We were driving south on Western Street when I shot a glance to the right and noticed a building that used to house an insurance company. Eventually, it’s going to house the Randall County Courthouse Annex.

Work on the building is well under way.

County Judge Ernie Houdashell told me some weeks ago about the purchase of the old Nationwide building and the realization of his longtime effort to relocate the county annex from its cramped quarters at South Georgia Street and Interstate 27.

I give Houdashell a huge dose of credit for bringing this project together. He had dickered and bickered with the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation to sell the Nationwide structure to the county. AEDC apparently had some issues that it was able to resolve with the county.

So now the county owns the structure and is refitting it to meet its needs.

The annex does the vast majority of the county’s tax business, even though the county seat is in Canyon, about 15 miles south of Amarillo, which straddles the Randall-Potter County line. Amarillo contains about 75 percent of Randall County’s population and generates about 80 percent of the tax revenue used to finance county government.

The annex will include the auto registration operation, along with a sheriff’s department presence and Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace court. I cannot recall the precise square footage increase that the county will get in the new structure, but I am aware that it’s going to be substantially more than it has at the Georgia Street site.

What’s going to happen to the current annex building? Houdashell hopes the county can deed it over to the Texas Panhandle War Memorial, which is in the process of raising money for its new interpretive center.

Houdashell, always the dealmaker, already has added an F-100 fighter jet to the War Memorial grounds, along with a Vietnam War-era UH-1 Huey helicopter, the kind of ship on which Houdashell served during the Vietnam War.

Yes, the downtown work is important to Amarillo and will bring tremendous value to the city over time when all the work is done. It’s not the only place, though, that’s undergoing a serious change.

I will look forward to watching the courthouse annex work progress — along with Randall County’s continuing evolution.