Congress locks in $40 million for Greenville federal courthouse

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Larrison Campbell

Washington Avenue in downtown Greenville. Mayor Errick Simmons hopes a new $40.1 million federal courthouse will draw businesses to the neighborhood.

Greenville’s proposed $40.1 million dollar federal courthouse is one step closer to being a reality.

This week, Congress authorized the General Services Administration, which helps secure building contracts for federal agencies, to use to buy the land, design and construct the new facility.

Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons credited President Barack Obama as well as Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker and U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson with pushing the proposal through.

“(The) new federal building in Greenville will be a catalyst to economic development. This $40 million injection of federal money will reemerge and revitalize our downtown…” Simmons said in a statement. “This courthouse shows how local and federal partnerships matter.”

Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons

Larrison Campbell/Mississippi Today

Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons

Last year, the U.S. Marshals Service gave the security at Greenville’s current federal courthouse, built in 1958, a rating of 14 out of 100, making it one of the least secure in the country. As a result, almost all of Greenville’s criminal cases are being rerouted to Oxford’s federal courthouse.

“(The lack of security) has definitely had an impact on the traffic at that courthouse,” said David Crews, court clerk for the Northern District, in August.

The new courthouse is scheduled to open in 2021. In addition to the two courtrooms and three judicial chambers for the U.S. District Court of the Northern District, the 62,000-square-foot building will house the U.S. Marshals Service, the office of the U.S. Attorneys, the office of the Federal Public Defender, and the U.S. Probation Services Office.

When the new courthouse is finished, those cases will likely return, according to Crews, along with the lawyers, judges, witnesses and spectators attached to them.

Updated security measures for the new courthouse would include separate elevators for prisoners, holding cells near courtrooms and separate entrances and hallways for judges.

Simmons said the courthouse is a key part of an ongoing effort to bring businesses back to downtown Greenville. In the spring, local developer Bill Boykin plans to open the Lofts at 517, a historic renovation project in downtown’s long-abandoned Sears building. Plans include 16 hotel suites, 12 condominiums, a retail space, a craft brewery and a restaurant.

Another developer is investing $1.2 million into turning downtown’s Rodeway Inn into a Cabot Lodge, a three-star hotel chain.

“Successful cities have successful downtowns,” Simmons said. “There is an increase in morale because of this courthouse, there’s an increase in community pride, I think, with any injection of money into an area.”

Greenville’s community pride was challenged last month when a local African American church was set on fire, the words “Vote Trump,” spray-painted on its side. The fire attracted national headlines and the FBI began investigating it as a hate crime, citing a trend among white nationalists of using the president-elect’s name to justify their cause.

As of Friday the police had not yet identified a suspect or a motive in the fire. But in the meantime, Simmons said that the town has continued to move forward.

“The people come together here; they work together. Race relations are good,” Simmons said. “People are saying ‘Greenville is on the move. We’re following your town.'”