Greenville expects development jolt from federal courthouse pick

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Kelsey Davis, Mississippi Today

Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons and Chief Judge of the Northern District of Mississippi Sharion Aycock were among those who addressed the public at an urban planning meeting for Greenville on Wednesday.

GREENVILLE — The General Services Administration has announced that the new federal courthouse will be at the Stein Mart site, located at the northwest corner of South Poplar Street and Washington Avenue.

This will put it in downtown Greenville, bringing an injection of $40.1 million of federal investments into the city’s downtown revitalization efforts.

The other site considered was the Levee Site, located at the northwest corner of South Walnut and Central Streets, which also would have put the courthouse downtown.

Kelsey Davis, Mississippi Today

The Stein Mart Site, an option for the new federal courthouse in Greenville, sits at the corner of South Poplar Street and Washington Avenue.

Both options were discussed at a recent public meeting about urban planning and a new federal courthouse, which grew somewhat tense. One resident voiced concerns about preserving the history of whichever site is chosen for the courthouse; another about what will happen to an old building downtown.

That halted when Bill Boykin stood up, faced the room and said, “Y’all all know I just spent $9.1 million. We’ve all sat around in this community, and we’ve asked for and we’ve wanted new development. We’re getting $40 million and we’re getting a brand new courthouse. We don’t need to argue over anything. It’s $40 million and by the grace of God, we got it.”

Boykin, a Greenville businessman, spent the $9.1 million in 2016 renovating an abandoned downtown building, transforming it into a boutique hotel.

Then, at the end of the year, Congress officially authorized the U.S. General Services Administration to use $40.1 million of the FY16 Omnibus Spending Bill for a new federal courthouse in Greenville.

Revitalizing downtown has been key for many Greenville residents.

The town shares the woes of many others in the state – lack of opportunity leads to population decline. Lack of people leads to financial decline. Lack of funds leads to fewer opportunities. And so on.

Federal investments aim to rejuvenate Greenville and places like it that might not have the industry needed to sustain a local community.

“We’ve done some great things in the city of Greenville, but this courthouse piece, it speaks volumes,” said Errick Simmons, mayor of Greenville. “It’s going to be really, really wonderful. Also, the authorizations mark an important step, I think, in moving the courthouse projects forward in local communities. It prompts that local economic development that is needed and I think this project is going to do exactly that.” 

The hope, of course, is that the courthouse will bring increased foot traffic, which will bring business to Greenville by the time of its scheduled opening in Fall 2021.

Greenville’s federal courthouse has seen less legal action than it could, as multi-defendant criminal trials have been taking place in Oxford for at least the past year for safety reasons. 

“We don’t hold (multi-defendant trials) here any longer because the [Greenville] criminal courthouse is not a safe environment. We don’t have a prisoner elevator. We have to transport prisoners down public hallways where jurors walk, where judges walk, where the public walks. That is an unacceptable safety problem,” said David Crews, Clerk of Court for the Northern District of Mississippi.  

Multi-defendant criminal trials are rare, but officials feel that the new courthouse in itself will allow more cases to be litigated in Greenville.

“I am confident that a new federal courthouse will cause more trials to be tried, civil and criminal in this area. And that’s going to bring revenue,” said Sharion Aycock, Chief Judge of the Northern District of Mississippi.

uscourts.gov

The current federal courthouse building in Greenville

Construction is scheduled to begin in March 2019, which locals have pointed out will also help boost the economy while residents wait for the courthouse to open its doors.

And though the $40.1 million on its own won’t be enough to completely negate decades’ worth of fiscal neglect in one fell swoop, it will be transformative for Greenville’s downtown.

For Simmons, transforming downtown is pivotal to remaking the city.

“Successful cities have successful downtowns. That shared vision of the community … creates the return of a successful downtown in Greenville. It builds upon our assets. It strengthens the vitality of our city,” said Simmons.