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City Hall in 1942

Jobs outlook for courthouse still good in revised economic numbers

City officials say a federal courthouse construction project set to start this year will employ more than 400 people.

And this time, they’re sure of it.

The city on Friday released a revised version of a Jacksonville State University study of the potential economic impact of the $42.6 million courthouse the federal General Services Administration plans to build on Gurnee Avenue beginning in September.

“This is a very positive thing for Anniston,” said city planner Toby Bennington. “Obviously, with a project this size you’re going to have a positive impact on the economy.”

Bennington and other city officials are preparing to move their offices out of City Hall as the city plans to give it to the GSA as a site for the new courthouse.

Demolition on the City Hall building is planned to begin in September, with city offices moving into rented space in The Anniston Star’s building on McClellan Boulevard for the next five years. The city expects to take ownership of the old federal courthouse on Noble Street in a land swap, but it’s unclear what location city leaders will pick as a permanent City Hall site.

Advocates of the project have touted courthouse construction as an economic shot in the arm to Anniston’s downtown. Last year, the city commissioned JSU’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research to predict just how many jobs the project would create.

The initial answer, delivered in a report in January, was 441. Within days, they threw that number out: A miscommunication with federal officials led them to use numbers about $30 million higher than the actual cost of the courthouse. Researchers apparently had a too-high estimate of “capital expenditures” — basically, spending on equipment that would go into a courthouse once completed.

Friday’s numbers adjust that figure down by only a small amount: the project will employ 427 people, most of them in construction of the building, and a few dozen in the “capital expenditures” stage.

For city officials, the take-home message was simple. The work you see on the street, with hardhats and cranes, will make up the bulk of the jobs from the project. There’s no guarantee that federal officials will spend their money in Anniston when filling the courthouse with equipment.

“The capital expenditures making up this $11.7 million have less of an impact on the county because the GSA sources these types of things from all over the country,” JSU researcher Jennifer Green wrote in an email to The Star. “It is not realistic to think these items would all be purchased in Calhoun County.”

Another question the study doesn’t answer is how many local people will work on the project. Bennington said there’s no way to tell who would fill those jobs.

Roughly 1,000 people work in construction in the county right now, according to Alabama Department of Labor Statistics.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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