Travis County commissioners last week decided to seek proposals from private developers interested in working with officials to build a new county civil courthouse in downtown Austin.

State District Judge John Dietz told the commissioners that bringing in a private partner could eliminate the need for a bond issue to finance the project, while keeping a valuable piece of property on the tax rolls.

“I believe that we really don’t have a choice but to go public-private partnership,” Dietz said.

Commissioners are expected to ask voters in November for up to $300 million of general obligation bonds to finance a new courthouse.

The county recently purchased a parking lot for $21 million as the site for the proposed 17-story civil and family law courthouse.

Dietz said a development covering 1.9 million square feet could be built on the site, with the county needing slightly more than 500,000 square feet for its project.

County commissioners voted in March for a $200,000 study to explore private partnerships on the courthouse and other projects.

The current civil courthouse, which opened in 1931, is too small to meet the needs of a county of one million, court officials said.

The new facility will be designed to accommodate future expansions so it can serve the county’s needs for 70 to 80 years.

Travis County’s $631 million of outstanding GO bonds are rated triple-A by Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s.  

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