A Fort Worth architectural firm could put a period on a decades-old question about how to address parking issues for the Gregg County Courthouse in downtown Longview.

Gregg County commissioners on Monday approved a contract with Schwarz-Hanson Architects, a firm it previously selected to design a proposed multi-level parking and office facility near the courthouse.

The contract with Schwarz-Hanson Architects could be worth $604,790 to $711,590 depending, ultimately, on which of four conceptual design options the county selects for the facility. Purchasing Director Kelli Davis told commissioners the firm would return later to present the four possibilities.

The contract the court approved Monday shows the four conceptual options will consist of: (A) an approximate 300-space parking facility with up to 10,000 square feet of office space on the facility’s ground level; (B) an approximate 300-space parking facility with up to 10,000 square feet of office space in front of the garage structure; (C) an approximate 300-space parking facility with up to 25,000 square feet of office space on top of the garage structure; or (D) an approximate 300-space parking facility with no office space.

The firm’s fee would increase if more parking spaces or office space are added to the project.

Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said after Monday’s meeting that it could be eight or nine months before the conceptual designs are presented to the county. The parking facility would be built on the former Regions Bank motor bank and parking lot properties at the southeast corner of Methvin and Center streets in downtown. The county previously spent $1.249 million to purchase the properties.

The contract was approved by a vote of 4-1, with Pct. 2 Commissioner Darryl Primo voting against it.

Primo said this idea has been around for many years.

“It’s always been rejected as superfluous and unnecessary as it remains today,” he said.

He pointed to the county’s reserves, and said “I want to give it back to the taxpayers in the form of a lower tax rate.” It’s not right to tackle this project during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

Stoudt later said the county has unrestricted reserves of $36 million, but he said the county has hired a financial consultant to help determine if paying cash for the project is the best approach or if the county should finance part of it considering the bond and financial markets.

“Money is cheaper than it’s ever been in the history of America,” Stoudt said.

During Monday’s meeting, Pct. 1 Commissioner Ronnie McKinney cited an earlier study he said showed the number of court cases in Gregg County were about 15,715 in 2014 and expected to grow to 18,654 by 2030.

“I as commissioner representing Precinct 1 am tired of having people tell me why they had to walk four or five blocks in the rain, snow, sleet,” McKinney said. “We can offer covered parking, and I think it’s time to do it.”

Davis and McKinney, who were part of the group who worked to bring the contract to the court, said there’s no set dollar figure at this time on what the proposed parking and office facility might cost.

“You don’t think we should have an idea what the cost of the building will be before we go any further?” Primo asked.

Stoudt said after Monday’s meeting that an estimate several years ago put the cost of constructing a parking facility at $20,000 to $30,000 per parking spot. That would mean the cost of a parking facility with about 300 spots could range from $6 million to $9 million, not considering the money the county already spent on purchasing the property or the specifics of the current project the county is considering.

The county won’t know what the project costs are until it sees the architecture firm’s proposals, Stoudt said.

Jo Lee Ferguson is a reporter for the Longview News-Journal.

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