New Bibb County courthouse site could be decided this week

Bibb County commissioners say they’re poised to pick a site for a new county courthouse this week.

Starting at 10:30 a.m. today, commissioners will begin debating architects’ reports on four separate sites, with a vote scheduled for Thursday morning.

Commissioners, though, may not have an easy time coming to an agreement.

“I’m sure there won’t be unanimity,” Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said.

The architectural firms of Atlanta-based Cooper Carry and Macon-based Brittain, Thompson, Bray, Brown Inc. are finishing a $264,000 courthouse needs assessment and are set to present their findings to commissioners this morning. The four formal sites under study are Oglethorpe Street near the jail; the BB&T bank building on Second Street next to the courthouse; The Telegraph on Broadway; and a parking lot at Mulberry and First streets near the courthouse.

The county is under court order to build a new courthouse by July 1, 2012.

Monday, Edwards and Commissioner Elmo Richardson said they’ve been leaning toward the Oglethorpe Street location but haven’t finalized their decisions. Commission Chairman Sam Hart said he wouldn’t make a decision until he hears from the architects. Commissioner Bert Bivins did not return calls seeking comment Monday but has said he was leaning toward the Oglethorpe site.

Commissioner Joe Allen said he wants the county to buy the BB&T building and an adjacent office building once known as the IBM building to meet space needs for city, county and courthouse workers as Macon and Bibb County consider consolidation. He also wants to buy The Telegraph site to create parkland and more county office space at a major entrance into the city.

On one point, the commissioners seem unanimous: They don’t see a way to build a courthouse without money from a new special purpose local option sales tax. That could add to negotiations.

“If we don’t get the BB&T and IBM and build it on the block there, I will push against a SPLOST,” Allen said.

He said moving the courthouse away from downtown would strip economic vitality from businesses in the area, much as the opening of Macon Mall relocated Sears, JCPenney and other stores from downtown.

Richardson said the county has no construction options except for the SPLOST.

“It’s going to be expensive regardless,” he said. “To raise taxes enough to finance it would be a real problem for the county.”

Edwards said SPLOST money may not stretch far, because the county has pressing needs for storm drainage, recreation and other problems as well as the courthouse.

Hart said he’d be happy if a majority of commissioners can settle on one site, rather than holding out for a unanimous decision.

“I’m hopeful that (the architects) will show us something to give us at least a majority to move forward, so we can start getting ready for a SPLOST,” he said. “I’m convinced the only way we’re going to be able to do this is to add the penny (tax) back that we had before.”

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was included in this report. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.