Vacant property in downtown Austin is hard to come by.

The leaders of Travis County know this and that's why six years ago they jumped at the opportunity to purchase a parking lot at 308 Guadalupe Street with plans to build a new civil and family courthouse. It cost the county about $23 million.

"We went looking specifically for a piece of property that was the closest proximity to our current courts complex that we could find that would also have the air space that would make it possible for us to go up because it's cheaper to build these courts vertically," explained Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt.

But those plans were spoiled last November when voters shot down the county's $287.3 million bond proposal to build the courthouse, leaving the 1.77 acres a surface parking lot. Now the county is weighing the options of selling it or retaining ownership and leasing it.

"It is the most prime piece of real estate in Downtown Austin," said Ward Tisdale, President of the Real Estate Council of Austin.

"It's just the location is incredible," he added. "There is no Capitol view corridor restriction, which is hard to find in downtown."

The lot spans an entire city block and is appraised at $18.59 million. Developers estimate the property and developments around it are valued at $2 billion.

Developers will submit proposals to the county and the commissioners will decide who the land will be sold or leased to.

"Whatever's going to bring in the most money for the taxpayer. Really, that is our metric. Whatever is going to be most advantageous to the taxpayer," said Eckhardt. "Whether it's a ground lease or whether it's a fee simple sale, we would dedicate that revenue to solving our civil and family courts capacity issue."

Eckhardt said it seems taxpayers would get the most benefit if the county leases the property, but Tisdale disagrees.

"If it were privately developed, it would yield tens of millions of dollars of tax revenue per year for local schools and other governments," Tisdale explained.

The county hired commercial real estate company CBRE to represent them. CBRE and the county held a pre-bid conference Wednesday for developers interested in the property. Proposals are due Nov. 9, and Judge Eckhardt expects negotiations to begin in January.