Hidalgo County hires courthouse builder

EDINBURG — A recent proposal to change the courthouse location appears to have garnered little interest from those on the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court as they moved forward Tuesday with hiring the project’s construction manager at risk.

Morganti Texas LLC will build the new county courthouse, Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said Tuesday.

“We’ve looked at the company. It’s a very reputable company, very experienced,” he said about the Houston-based business. “They know what they’re doing, and we’re very fortunate to have them.”

Commissioners had previously negotiated fees with the builder and Tuesday’s action was mostly a formality.

The move, however, comes just days after local developer Kent Burns made a last-minute effort to sway several members of the court and others to consider his property in north Edinburg. Burns, a well-known farmer, was willing to gift 20 acres of his La Sienna Development to the county for the purpose of constructing the new courthouse there.

“That (offer) has been around forever — since probably about the time that I first came onboard the first term,” Garcia said about Burns’ proposal.

About a decade ago, Burns had approached then-Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas about possibly building a courthouse on his own dime and then leasing it to the county for say, 30 years.

At the time, Burns went as far as hiring an architectural firm that came up with a design for the facility. He later obtained a bid from Manhattan Construction Company — the same firm that would later build the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington — that indicated it could build Burns’ design for about $60 million.

Those plans and those costs are outdated, even by Burns’s own admission, which is why that offer was no longer on the table. Still, the prospect of free land doesn’t appear to be enough of an incentive for those on the court.

“It’s quite an ordeal, and frankly it’s not economically feasible,” Garcia said about changing the direction of the courthouse project.

There are a lot of other things to consider, he said, including infrastructure and the adjacent buildings that house other departments tied to the court.

“I don’t (see it as a viable option),” he said. “I can’t think of anybody that does that is on the court, but feel free to call them. … I don’t want to speak for anybody except for myself.”

Precinct 2 Commissioner Eddie Cantu, who met with Burns, also expressed concern, calling it difficult to pivot a project of its magnitude.

Precinct 1 Commissioner David Fuentes said Tuesday he wasn’t aware there was a proposal.

“I haven’t been given any information regarding an alternative or a different courthouse option that what was one the table,” he said. “Nobody has sat down and talked to me about it.”

He declined to give an opinion on the prospect of free land.

“Right now I can’t really give you anything other than what has been discussed at commissioners court because none of that has been discussed with me,” he said. “I’m not even sure what we’re talking about.”

Commissioners Joe Flores and Joseph Palacios did not respond to a request for comment.

nlopez@themonitor.com