The deal is not sealed yet, but GSA has named Rooker's proposal the preferred alternative of three presented.
PANAMA CITY — A site in downtown Panama City has been chosen as the preferred alternative for a new federal courthouse.
Proposals were submitted for at least three possible sites, with the preferred one chosen by the General Services Administration being vacant waterfront land on Luverne Avenue behind McKenzie Park.
In addition to Bay County’s proposal to bring the courthouse into the Juvenile Courthouse, a private Atlanta-based company called Rooker presented the General Services Administration (GSA) with an option for a location in downtown Panama City, and Marianna also is vying to land the new facility.
Carol Roberts, the president of the Bay County Chamber of Commerce who had been working since December 2016 to convince the federal government to keep the courthouse here, said she is elated the courthouse might stay in Bay County.
A special meeting of Panama City and the Community Redevelopment Agency has been called for 11 a.m. Monday at the Bay County Commission meeting room to discuss the courthouse issue.
At the conclusion of the City Commission special meeting, the Community Redevelopment Agency will meet in the same location to discuss the courthouse.
Bay County and Panama City officials have said they feel they will have accomplished their goal as long as the courthouse stays in Bay County and that they weren’t concerned when they learned a private company also was likely putting in a bid.
“The objective here is to keep the courthouse here in Bay County so if there is another proposal ... that wins that keeps the courthouse in Bay County that is a victory,” said County Manager Bob Majka said in a recent interview. He could not be reached for comment Friday.
Roberts said Rooker apparently submitted the low bid on the project.
“So we’re pretty excited that one of the two projects that were proposed in Panama City was selected as the No. 1 alternative,” she said. “It is a win. However, the deal isn’t done yet, and on Monday it is important our city commission put our best foot forward as far as completing the package that is being proposed. It’s not a done deal until deal struck between Panama City and Rooker development. They’ve made a request for specific incentives and the commission has to vote on the incentive package.”
Roberts said another reason Panama City needs to put its “best foot forward” is that it is unknown whether the second alternative site is the one in Jackson County.
The county had put forth a plan that would offer the Federal District Court the Juvenile Justice Facility on 11th Street at a turnkey option. Using the money from the lease, the county would pay down the debt on the juvenile facility and build a new juvenile courthouse on the same campus as the Bay County Courthouse.
While the new juvenile courthouse is being built, the personnel from the 11th Street facility would have temporarily moved into the former Panama City Hall, 9 Harrison Ave. So far the county has spent $60,000 on demolition work and Panama City has spent $120,000 on asbestos abatement at the former Panama City Hall. But officials say the asbestos removal would have have been necessary whether building was torn down or not.
Roberts said that investment was not a waste of money.
“It is an investment for this community,” she said. “We did what we thought needed to do in order to be competitive and keep the federal courthouse here.”
In 2017, the Federal District Court announced it would not renew the lease on the current federal courthouse, 30 W. Government St., when it expires in December 2018 because of problems with the building. The court indicated if that happened and a resolution wasn’t reached for a suitable new location, the Panama City division would be dissolved, which would force locals to travel to either Pensacola or Tallahassee and potentially cost the region 27 direct jobs and 100 indirect ones.
Efforts by a local task force — which included hiring a lobbying company — helped ensure funding for the Panama City division was not cut and that the GSA would consider proposals for a new building, which led to the bids from Marianna, the county and Rooker.
Rooker has an extensive history working with the GSA on federal facilities. The company has developed more than 150 state and federal facilities, including the most recently constructed federal courthouse in the Southeast, which is located in Greenville, North Carolina.