City hall

The entire block shown will be used by the federal government in construction of a new courthouse in the coming years. The largest building on the site, City Hall, was originally built as a USO recreation center for soldiers in World War II.

A new regional federal courthouse in Anniston moved a step closer to reality Tuesday, as the City Council agreed to a land swap with the federal General Services Administration.

Anniston Mayor Jack Draper said at the end of the night’s council meeting that the courthouse — a $42 million investment expected to create more than 300 jobs in Anniston, according to Draper — will be one of just six regional courthouses in the state, with the others in Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, Huntsville, Mobile and Birmingham.

“That puts us in the same breath with the biggest cities in the state, and that is absolutely something that we should be proud of,” Draper said.

The text of the exchange states that the federal government will take control of the current City Hall site on Gurnee Avenue, while eventually giving the current federal courthouse, located at 1129 Noble St., to the city. Anniston won’t get that property until the work in its offices is moved pending completion of the new federal courthouse.

Anniston will also get a payment of $520,000, the difference in value between the current City Hall and the current federal courthouse, which includes $20,000 for moving expenses. The money will be paid Aug. 30, the planned closing date on the Gurnee site.

The City Council previously decided to lease part of the Consolidated Publishing building on McClellan Boulevard, near the Anniston Museum of Natural History, as a temporary City Hall location. The city is expected to occupy a separate wing from the offices of The Anniston Star, starting in September.

Councilman Ben Little had several issues with the nature of the deal, which he said he believed would cost taxpayers an unacceptable amount in the future. If another council comes in and decides not to move into the Noble Street building, he said, it could be more expensive than the current plan. He also said renovations on the building might be more than the structure’s worth.

“You as the public deserve to know how much it will cost to remediate that building if we’re going to use it as a new City Hall,” Little said.

He was also concerned that an environmental study hadn’t taken place to check 113-year-old building for asbestos, lead and other industrial hazards.

Little said that three to six minutes — the maximum length of council discussion — isn’t long enough to deliberate over the document. He said he would consider filing a complaint within the next six months to delay the project to get more time to pick apart the plan, if necessary, though he was quick to add that he was “not threatening anything.”

Councilman David Reddick echoed concerns about the cost of renovation and meeting city building codes, but offered his approval of the overall courthouse plan.

“I think what we’re doing is a good thing,” Reddick said.

During the meeting, the City Council also:

— Moved its next meeting from July 2 to July 9, and relocated that and all future City Council meetings to the Anniston City Meeting Center until meetings can be held at the temporary City Hall site.

— Approved alcohol licenses for a Pizza Hut on Blue Mountain Road, the Parlormint Lounge on Noble Street and South Beach Volleyball at McClellan.

— Awarded $48,500 to EMTEK and $50,000 to Teague Hauling and Demolition; both are demolition companies in Anniston. Each company will demolish four properties rated as substandard by the city.

— Amended the city’s ordinance regulating the operation of trucks on city streets to make certain vehicles, including city, military and emergency vehicles, exempt from the ordinance.

— Amended the city’s ambulance ordinance to define “emergency calls” as ambulance trips which take a patient to an urgent care clinic, hospital emergency room or any part of a hospital where the patient will receive immediate care.

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560. 

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