Bessemer courtrooms could move to an empty former mall space if Jefferson County is unable to reach a new deal with the lease holders for the current Bessemer Justice Center buildings.
The Jefferson County Commission voted Aug. 20 to terminate the leases of the county's buildings in Bessemer in a move to save money for the county.
Jefferson County Manager Tony Petelos said Wednesday they are close to a deal that would put all of the Bessemer courthouse operations in the old Mall at WestLake shopping center in the Bessemer cutoff. The 33,000 space was formerly a Bruno's and a Food World, but is currently abandoned. The property's owner Anthony Underwood met with Petelos today in his downtown Birmingham office.
Petelos says the former mall's property would meet all the needs of the Bessemer courts and the entire courthouse operation could move in there. He says the deal would be a fraction of the cost the county is currently paying Ambac Assurance Corp. to lease the Bessemer Justice Center buildings. The current lease costs the county $8 million for this year and $10 million next year, Petelos said.
Petelos and commissioner Jimmie Stephens both say the renegotiations with Ambac are not going anywhere and the company seems firm in their position to not renegotiate a lower lease with the county.
In Tuesday's commission meeting, Bessemer Courthouse District Attorney Arthur Green told commissioners that there are big legal questions about the commission's authority to close the courthouse.
Many of the judges and officials who use the Bessemer courthouse are opposed to the possibility of moving out, including Tony Petelos' wife Judge Teresa Petelos. Judge Petelos sent her husband a letter stating her objection to closing the Bessemer courthouse.
The commission has not yet made a decision about the possible closing of the current Bessemer buildings. Commissioners say they still hope to renegotiate their contract with Ambac Assurance Corp., but if not, they will have a place to move into that allows them to stay in the Bessemer cutoff area.
Petelos says another possible courthouse location is under consideration, but the details of that location have not been disclosed.
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