Downtown Macon eateries fear plan to move courthouse

Several downtown restaurant owners say if the Bibb County Courthouse moves as proposed, it could be devastating for their businesses.

“All I do know, my business would no longer exist on this corner if they move the courthouse,” said Michael Taylor, owner of Between the Bread Café and Michael’s. The restaurant, at Second and Mulberry streets, sits across the corner from the courthouse. “With everything that’s going on with the economy, the independent restaurants are already struggling. And on top of that, if they move the courthouse, basically it’s going to be the dagger for several small businesses.”

In 2007, Bibb County’s Superior Court judges ordered county commissioners to build a new courthouse. The existing courthouse is 84 years old and needs about $2 million in renovations, officials have said.

Last week, county officials revealed a proposed site for a 171,000-square-foot courthouse near the county jail, bounded by Second and Third streets and Oglethorpe and Hawthorne streets. It’s .8 mile from the existing building, which has a little more than 71,000 square feet of space.

Even though much of the land needed for the new facility has been acquired, plans are not final, County Commissioner Elmo Richardson said last week. Officials said it will cost $60 million to $70 million based on 2007 figures to build the new facility and renovate the existing courthouse. County commissioners plan to push for a penny sales tax to foot the bill.

About 350 people work in the courthouse building and about 235 employees associated with the courts would move to the new building. The remaining workers would work in the existing facility after it is renovated.

Taylor said he’s been a “big, big supporter” of downtown since 1995 and he doesn’t want to leave the heart of the city.

“But if they move the courthouse I’m either going to go out of business or be forced to leave,” he said.

Other restaurateurs worried about the proposed courthouse relocation include:

Ÿ Jennifer Caroway, manager of Adriana’s on Third Street, said she is concerned because many lawyers who do business at the courthouse come in the restaurant.

“We have a pretty loyal crowd that comes in here almost every day, and we know them by name and we know what they eat,” Caroway said. “I would definitely hate to see them go. It definitely would affect us in some way.”

Ÿ Abby Gordon, co-owner of Jeneane’s Cafe on Mulberry Street, said she doesn’t think the county can afford to build another courthouse, “and I’m sure it will hurt my business and the surrounding businesses.” The renovation will create a ripple effect “for the whole downtown area,” Gordon said.

The new location would be too far for employees to walk to the heart of downtown for lunch, and they would be unlikely to drive, she said.

“We already have a problem with downtown parking anyway,” she said. “There are a lot of vacant buildings downtown (the county) could use,” Gordon said. “Why build more buildings when we already have plenty of buildings down here?”

Ÿ Chris Claiborne, general manager of The Rookery bar and restaurant on Cherry Street, said she gets a lot of business from courthouse workers and lawyers.

“It would take probably at least a good 10 percent if not more like 20-25 percent of my business,” Claiborne said.

She also questioned why the courts couldn’t move into an existing building “that’s sitting here empty and renovate that into what we need.”

Ÿ John Gray, general manager of Spaghetti Alley on Mulberry Street Lane, said he realizes the courthouse is old and needs to be renovated, but if it’s relocated, it would not only hurt his business.

“That’s not going to be good for the city of Macon,” Gray said. The proposed location “is not in the heart of downtown. It’s not what everybody has been trying to do, which is revitalize the center of downtown and the courthouse is part of that revitalization.”

Information from The Telegraph’s archives and staff writer Jennifer Burk contributed to this report. To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.