If a magic potion existed for the recurring malaise that infects Anniston’s downtown, we’d buy it by the gallon and happily share it with City Hall and its economic developers.
There is no magic potion, of course. But federal officials’ long-awaited decision to build Anniston’s new federal courthouse on Gurnee Avenue between 11th and 12th streets is a victory nonetheless — not only for City Hall but also for those who want downtown to take steps forward.
Here’s why Friday’s news is splendid for Anniston:
-- It solves the problem with City Hall’s office space. The former World War II-era USO building has long outlived its usefulness and, like the former Anniston police station, needs to go. Building the federal courthouse on the current City Hall site allows city offices to move into the current federal courthouse (and former Anniston post office) on Noble Street.
-- It prevents the Noble Street courthouse from sitting largely vacant and adding to the glut of unused office space downtown.
-- It centralizes legal activities in Anniston by building the federal courthouse across the street from the Calhoun County Courthouse, with the still-new Justin Sollohub Justice Center a block to the north.
-- It largely protects the interests of the Freedom Riders national monument site to the south. We wholeheartedly agreed with the National Park Service’s concerns about building the courthouse across from the monument. The decision federal officials announced Friday doesn’t place the courthouse farther north and adjacent to Zinn Park, but it does represent a fair compromise between the city’s interests and those of the NPS.
-- It ends the drama. (We assume.)
Anniston’s courthouse dance with federal officials is more than a decade old, spanning multiple mayoral terms and its share of hiccups and delays. That forecasted dates are announced — a two-year construction job starts next fall, officials project — is a high-five for a city that this summer saw its Noble Street hotel deal fall apart and force a search for a new development partner.
In comments to The Star, Mayor Jack Draper rightly seemed ebullient. “The importance of this simply cannot be overstated. This is a huge deal.” We agree. Let’s hope this marks a string of forward steps for Anniston’s downtown.