Mall at West Lake to become Bessemer courthouse? - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Mall at West Lake to become Bessemer courthouse?

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BESSEMER - AL -

It is certainly big enough, but is it the right fit for a courthouse?

Anthony Underwood, owner of Mall of West Lake certainly sees his empty mall as a viable option for a county courthouse.

"Regardless of what happens, the county is going to save millions of dollars. Whether they negotiate, or have this building as a backup, it's win win." says Underwood. "(Jefferson County) could save over $100 million, easily by being able to come here and whatever expense they encounter."

Jefferson County manager Tony Petelos says the cost to renovate the mall location would be anywhere from three to four million dollars. The lease would be pennies on the dollar for what the county is spending now.

The mall is vacant, but utilities and upkeep have continued. Petelos says, it is ready now, if the move becomes necessary.

"(Underwood) is willing to lease this space to us, and give us an option if we have to move out of the Bessemer courthouse," Petelos says. "We have now paid rent through all the way through April of next year. So, that would give us enough time to do the build out, and whatever we need to do to renovate that area of the mall."

The only county commissioner opposed to the move is Jimmy Stephens.

Stephens says his stance has not changed and that the closing of the downtown Bessemer courthouse would be devastating to the community.

"It's the economic engine for the City of Bessemer and the entire cutoff area and to do away with that would do irreparable harm to the citizens of that area," says Stephens.

Right now, commissioner Stephens has no allies on the commission.

The other four may not like it, but they are ready to move forward with the move to the Mall at West Lake. However, it is not a done deal.

Two weeks from now, the everybody will be back before a federal bankruptcy judge. The judge will determine whether this plan is even feasible for the county in light of its bankruptcy.

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