Jefferson County's "great deal" - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Jefferson County's "great deal"

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BESSEMER - AL -

Jefferson County leaders are calling it the great deal. An agreement will keep the county courthouse in Bessemer in its same location.

A new courthouse lease will save the county millions of dollars a year, keep court running uninterrupted and maintain a steady flow of business in downtown Bessemer. But it also marks a big milestone in the bankruptcy proceedings because negotiations were successful with the first big creditor.

For more than 100 years, Jimmy Koikos' family has served attorneys, judges and others brought to the nearby courthouse for business. That's why the Bright Star owner publicly fought to save the courthouse.

"Keeping the courthouse in Bessemer means everything," said Jimmy Koikos, owner of Bright Star.

Everything from downtown business to keeping the courts running was in jeopardy when the county discussed moving the courthouse- possibly to the vacant Westlake Mall.

"It would've been a disaster if we had to move because we would've had to close down. It would've taken some time to renovate a different space if we had to move. What would've we done in the meantime? I don't know. I'm glad we don't have to make those decisions," said Judge Tony Petelos, the presiding Jefferson County judge in the Bessemer division.

An agreement was reached between the county and Ambac Assurance, the company that insures the courthouse lease. It will end the current eight million dollar lease to enter into a new one for 4.5 million dollars.

"It was totally unacceptable to move that courthouse. Our citizens have been harmed enough," said Commissioner Jimmie Stephens.

In addition to freeing up money to pay for other services, commissioners say it signals the first big win in the bankruptcy battle.

"This is the first multimillion dollar agreement. I think it bodes well for the future," said Commission President David Carrington.

Koikos also sits on the Public Building Authority that holds the courthouse lease. He believes it sets a new tone for business.

"We're trying to get the contract to be level and honest about it so we can have the courthouse forever," he said.

The new lease goes through 2037 and allows the county to purchase the courthouse for one thousand dollars at the end.

This agreement goes before the federal bankruptcy judge Thursday for final approval.

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