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HOT funds, capital credits seed renovations of historic complex

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Courier archives
After renovation, the Bandera County Historic Jail will house a visitors center and Frontier Justice Museum. The next function slated for the 1881 structure will be the Old Jailhouse Art Show and Sale on Saturday, Oct. 22, sponsored by the Frontier Times Museum.

This photo was taken prior to the Historic Courthouse renovation for use as Bandera County Justices of the Peace. After future renovations, the building, which was first used as a courthouse in 1877, will house the Convention & Visitors Bureau Welcome Center and offices.

As a result of a decision made during a regular meeting of Bandera County Commissioners Court on Thursday, Sept. 8, the county will retain 2/7ths of the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) fund during fiscal year 2016-2017. The unanimous decision will enable the court to proceed with renovations of the Old Jail, located on 12th Street.
Owners of overnight accommodations in unincorporated areas of the county collect HOT. While technically tax money, it is not paid by Bandera County residents, but rather is a tax imposed on visitors who stay overnight.
The $111,714 in HOT funds will be combined with an unexpected windfall of over $100,000 from unclaimed capital credits sent to the county from the state government.
As Auditor Christina Moreno told the court earlier, Bandera County received a windfall from the State of “Prior to this, the most we have ever received was $12,000. When we received it, I thought there must have been a typo, but apparently the state changed its calculations and we got this windfall.”
During a special meeting on Monday, Sept. 8, commissioners voted unanimously to develop a welcome center and historical complex to include the 1881 jail and 1877 courthouse and the adjoining county property, located on 12th Street.
At that time, Rebecca Norton, executive director of the Frontier Times Museum, and members of the Friends of the Old Jail (FOJ) Committee presented their ideas for renovation and usage.
According to Norton, the proposed complex would serve as a destination venue and create a cultural corridor for other area attractions. “This complex would become a gateway to Bandera,” she said.
The plan proposes that the Frontier Times Museum would contract with Bandera County to operate the Old Jail as a Frontier Justice Museum and include both temporary and permanent exhibits. These exhibits might include outlaws of the Old West, Texas Rangers, frontier justice and former sheriff’s of Bandera County.
“As visitors enter the jail, changing exhibits will let them know that the museum is not static. This will give them a reason to visit each time they return to Bandera,” Norton said. “Reconstruction of the original cellblock, located in the back of the building, will provide visitors with an ‘immersion experience’,” she said, adding that iron bars would be salvaged from Bandera’s 1930s jail.
The Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) would eventually find a permanent home in the complex’s 1877 courthouse. Most recently, the building housed two justices of the peace and their courts. The CVB Welcome Center will be located on the first floor with offices on the second floor.
The courtyard between the two buildings would be landscaped and used for outdoor programming, such as reenactments by the Bandera Cattle Company Gunfighters. A limestone fence that bordered the courtyard will be recreated.
George Sharman, chairman of the FOJ Committee, spoke about plans for the hillside bank that leads from the complex down to the Medina River. “Once it’s cleared of brambles and brush, the area will include a handicapped-accessible switchback trail down to the river,” he said. “The trail will continue under the Highway 173 South Bridge and eventually connect with Bandera City Park. It will include seating and picnic tables, also be handicapped accessible. It will.”
According to Sharman, funding is being requested from the City of Bandera Economic Development Corporation for an engineering study for the project that also includes a retaining wall, sidewalk to connect the switchback with proposed parking along Maple Street.
Roy Dugosh, chairman of the Bandera County Historical Commission, told the court his group was anxious to move forward with the renovations. “My only worry that some of the etchings found in the former cellblock may have ‘Dugosh’ on them,” he said.
County Judge Richard Evans noted, “I’m pretty sure they do.”
Calling the development enterprise a public-private partnership, Evans noted Mason Hunt’s purchase of the former wool and mohair building adjacent to the historical complex. That historic building is also undergoing rehabilitation.
“Long-term, this will be an effective tool for tourism. I’ve wanted something to be done with this area for years,” Evans said. “It’s time to do it or forget it.”
During a regular meeting on Sept. 8, commissioners unanimously approved issuing an RFQ (Request for Qualifications) for architects to oversee the renovation process.