People living in the Bessemer Cutoff continue to worry about the possibility the Jefferson County Bessemer Justice Center, the old courthouse, the annex, and the county jail will all close because of a debate over leases.
The Jefferson County Commission has already voted to terminate the leases as of September 30. Today, Bessemer developer Anthony Underwood held an open house at the vacant Mall of West Lake to Bessemer residents. Underwood is in serious negotiations with the county to move all of the courtrooms and other county offices to the abandoned shopping center.
Jefferson County District Judge Eric Fancher says there are some concerns about the new location.
"Moving somewhere else bring about issues of security," Fancher said.
Some of those who attended the open house at the Mall of West Lake say the mall would be an acceptable alternative.
"There are some people in my family who don't drive. It's easy to get a neighbor to take you downtown [to Bessemer] but to go to Birmingham with long lines? It would be horrible," Kyota Akers said.
Underwood realizes he is being used as a negotiation tool with the company holding the leases, Ambac Assurance Corp. Underwood says it will be good if a new lease agreement is written with Ambac but it would also be a deal for the county to move into his shopping center.
"They are looking at $140 million during the duration of the note. They could probably save over a $100 million by coming here," Underwood said.
A federal bankruptcy judge has allowed the county to pay Ambac through April. This will allow time for negotiations and for time to renovate the mall if necessary.
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