Victoria County agrees to buy building, create recovery center

The Victoria Advocate is currently housed in the building at 311 E. Constitution St. Victoria County plans to buy the building using grant funds and turn it into a disaster recovery center.

The Victoria County government plans to buy a downtown building and convert it into a disaster recovery and response center thanks to a $1.1 million grant from the Rebuild Texas Fund.

County commissioners voted Monday to approve the plan and to purchase the building pending a legal review. The building in question, located at 311 E. Constitution St., currently houses the Victoria Advocate. More than one-third of the building’s space will be used by the Victoria County Long-Term Recovery Group, which has helped thousands of families rebuild their homes after Hurricane Harvey.

“It all came up as a dream,” said Mark Longoria, the president of the recovery group. “Like, ‘What if we had a building that we could share together?’”

The terms of the grant call for the county to enter into a partnership with the LTRG. With the funding from Rebuild Texas, the county will chip in $100,000 to buy the Advocate building for an expected sale price of about $500,000. The rest of the grant funds will be used to convert the building into a recovery center, including adding showers and dormitory space for disaster recovery workers as well as a portable generator hookup, according to a list of proposed renovations. The building could then be used as a command center during future hurricanes or other natural disasters, where rescue workers operating during a storm or volunteers visiting after a storm could convene and stay.

The LTRG will use some of the building’s office space so the group’s nine-person staff can continue reviewing and managing Harvey recovery cases. In total, the group estimates it has worked on more than 3,000 cases from residents in need since the storm. The LTRG will also be able to use the building’s warehouse space, which currently houses the paper’s old printing press, to store building materials.

The recovery group had started looking for more cost-effective options than leasing office and warehouse space, as it is currently doing, when the Rebuild Texas funding became available. Longoria told commissioners last month the group was spending about $3,500 per month to lease its current warehouse, money that will be saved when it moves into the county-owned building.

“We’re going to be able to save money and use the money elsewhere to help people who are really in need,” said Longoria, who is also the deputy district director for U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud.

The building also will allow residents to have a centralized location to get assistance immediately after a disaster so residents seeking assistance don’t have to shuffle between offices and agencies to try and get help.

Under the agreement, the building will be owned by the county, and the terms with the LTRG will be in effect for 10 years. Commissioners are expected to approve a memorandum of understanding with the recovery group at a future meeting. In addition to chipping in $100,000 to purchase the building, the county will pay for the building’s utilities. The rest of the building’s space will either be used by the county or leased out. During a discussion in February, Commissioner Clint Ives said the space could potentially be used to accommodate new county offices, such as a county engineering office or a public defender’s office, if Victoria’s population continues to grow.

The Advocate plans to relocate to a smaller office because the Constitution Street building has more space than the newspaper staff needs. The Advocate started printing its paper in Corpus Christi in 2017, meaning the newspaper no longer needs most of the building’s warehouse space. The Advocate’s owners reduced the original list price of the building by about $400,000 because of the community benefit the project provides, according to a memo.

Also Monday, commissioners gave the go-ahead to the Victoria Farmers’ Market to begin fundraising and applying for grants to build a pavilion for the weekly market. The farmers market is open every Saturday in the county-owned parking lot of the Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center, 2805 N. Navarro St.

Meridith Byrd, the head of the market and the director of community engagement for the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent, said the market wants to construct a pavilion with storage space and bathrooms as well as a covered area to sell produce. If the idea moves forward, the farmers market would raise the estimated $150,000 needed to build the pavilion, but the county would own the structure and be able to use it or rent it out on days when it’s not in use by the market.

Byrd proposed building the pavilion between the parking lot’s two entrances on Airline Road. The parking lot itself is about to undergo major renovations and will also get a new entrance on Navarro Street once the Texas Department of Transportation begins building a median on Navarro Street, Commissioner Danny Garcia said.

Ciara McCarthy covers local government for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597 or on Twitter at @mccarthy_ciara.

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Health Reporter

Ciara McCarthy covers local government for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can contact her by emailing cmccarthy@vicad.com.

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