Developer looking to restore and repurpose old Clarkesville courthouse

The old Clarkesville courthouse, built in 1963, has sat empty for years.

As the City of Clarkesville looks to further develop the downtown area, Lew Oliver of Lew Oliver Inc. is looking at restoring and repurposing the old Clarkesville courthouse, which could save it from demolition.

Oliver discussed bringing apartments or a hotel to the old courthouse with the county commission at their Monday work session, but put an emphasis on apartments. Oliver will have an apartment developer visit the courthouse this Thursday, and believes he can bring in more.

“Clarkesville is in transition,” Oliver tells the commission. “A lot of growth is headed this way, like it or not.”

Oliver has compiled images and records of the courthouse’s original design to inspire his plans for reconstruction.

There is a need for affordable housing in Habersham county, and with nearby colleges like North Georgia Technical College, Piedmont University and Lanier Tech, there is a market for apartments in the area. Oliver estimates that the old courthouse could be put in “prime condition” for between $6-8 million dollars. He believes the courthouse could fit about 50 one-bedroom apartments, and that a parking solution is possible to support those possible residents.

A previous developer had similar plans. In 2019, the commission approved a contract to sell the old courthouse to Wayne Enterprises South LLC for $1 million. The deal fell through last year.

The courthouse has been slated for demolition for months now, but there are those who prefer to see it renovated. Many disdain the 70’s style yellow brick exterior and brassy gold bell tower, but there is something nostalgic about having the courthouse building sit in the center of town where courthouses have stood since 1821.

Also, renovating it could save the county money.

“I’ve been hearing that there were potential developers that wanted to come to Clarkesville […] and developers are seeing the potential of the courthouse,” Commissioner Bruce Harkness tells Now Habersham. “If we have to take $500,000 of taxpayer money to tear it down, [and] we could sell it for $750,000, it makes a whole lot more money for the county to sell it as is rather than spending a ton of money to tear it down.”

With support from the county and city of Clarkesville, Oliver will be able to bring in more plans, drawings and ideas for the restoration. For now, the commission has tabled demolition until September.

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