$38 Million Plan to Renovate City Hall Sparks Council Controversy

City Council has voted 8-3 to spend $38 million in borrowed money to make major repairs to the 1890 era San Antonio City Hall, but the decision was not without controversy, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Northeast side Councilman Clayton Perry, who is a retired military construction engineer, pointed out that for $38 million the city could buy or build a new building that would have all of the modern amenities, rather than dumping more taxpayer money into an old building with a myriad of problems.

Perry quoted from a letter from a constituent."No," the man said about spending $38 million to renovate City Hall.  

"They could find another place if it is inadequate for their needs, and make a museum out of it, for the benefit of tourists."

The idea of renovating City Hall started last year, when Councilman Roberto Trevino, who is an architect, pointed out that the 128 year old building is completely out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, with only one entrance open to the disabled which leads from the back of the building into a dingy basement room.

But the plan to renovate the facade of the building sprouted into a major effort to reconstruct much of the entire building, which includes cracked walls, leaky plumbing, and inadequate public access to key offices.It will also have to undergo asbestos abatement, which will require City officials to be moved out of the building during during some of the construction.

.Perry pointed out that the City already plans to buy the existing Frost Bank Building to use for City offices, and City Council doesn't meet at City Hall anyway.  Its chambers are across the street in the Municipal Plaza Building, which will be sold to Weston Urban developers to be converted into downtown apartments and condos.

Perry was also concerned that the $38 million will be borrowed, with an interest cost of nearly $2 million to taxpayers, even though the City just last year floated an $850 million bond package which did not include any money for this project.

"The voters of San Antonio approved a large bond package during the last election," Perry asked.  "Why wasn't this included with that package?"

A motion by Perry to delay the renovation until 2022, when the City's next bond issue is expected to be floated, and include the City Hall renovation in that package, was overwhelmingly defeated.

“How long to our neighbors have to wait for their streets to be repaired,” Perry asked, pointing out that City Council has no problem voting for millions of dollars in enhancements for their own offices, but refuses to approve a local homestead exemption that would benefit homeowners being squeezed by higher property taxes.  “We need to do better for our neighbors and allow them to have a voice.”

Perry hinted that the City declined to include the City Hall renovation in the 2017 bond package because, according to polls he conducted in his and neighboring districts, the citizend would not have approved it.

“The overall opinion for District 10 was 87% no,” he said.  “In District Nine, 64% no, 85% no in District Six.”

But Trevino, who pushed for the renovations, was pleased with the vote.

“Renovations are not simply about cosmetic improvements,” said Treviño. “We are taking a nineteenth century building and bringing it into the twenty-first century. The historic building will see energy efficient upgrades to the building envelope and mechanical systems – providing significant improvements to energy efficiency within a thoughtful space-planned environment.”

Morgan’s Wonderland, the city’s unique theme park for the disabled, also expressed its gratitude to City Council for moving to make the City Hall more accessable to the disabled.

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