Panel to draft guidelines for development of old county courthouse

The old Habersham County Courthouse is considered by many to be the ugliest courthouse in the state. It stands empty while the county prepares to offer it up to developers. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

The Habersham County Development Authority (HCDA) is expected to vote next week on an agreement with the county to establish requirements for the development of the old county courthouse.

A 5-member panel will draft the Requirements for Proposal (RFP) that will be given to developers who may want to bid on the property. The panel will be made up of local officials. They include HCDA Executive Director Mike Beecham, Habersham County Manager Alicia Vaughn, Clarkesville City Manager Keith Dickerson, Habersham County Finance Director Tim Sims, and Executive Director for Partnership Habersham Charlie Fiveash.

Once the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) is signed, the Review Panel will begin drafting the RFP. The document will contain details of what will be required for any developer to submit a proposal for the building. It will also outline specific criteria and details on how the proposal will be scored. Each proposal will be scored based on things like the number of jobs that will be brought into the area, the traffic issues surrounding the project, and how the project will be used.

Revitalizing the property while recouping some of the county taxpayers’ investment is a primary goal. “It is hoped, and expected, that the RFP process will facilitate the sale of the courthouse property,” says Beecham.

There’s a lot at stake.

“The impact of whatever decision is made will be great on both the city of Clarkesville and the county,” says Vaughn.

Ugliest courthouse in Georgia

The old courthouse, which opened in 1964, sits on a prime piece of real estate in downtown Clarkesville – the county seat. It’s as iconic to the town as the revered gazebo, but for far less auspicious reasons: The 35,000-square-foot brick monstrosity has been dubbed by some, the ugliest courthouse in Georgia.

The building has sat vacant, deteriorating, since 2018 when county offices were moved into the new administration building across town (the courts moved out years earlier after the new Judicial Center was built). Since then, the once functioning government building has become little more than an eyesore. Previous attempts to sell it fell through. What appeared to be a possible ‘quick-fix’ by selling it to a local developer for $10 was nixed by budget hawks on the commission eager to see county taxpayers recoup at least some of their investment.

The Economic Development Authority of Habersham County is preparing to receive proposals from developers to determine what will happen next to the old building. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

The RFP Review Panel will undertake the painstaking process of balancing stakeholders’ interests against reasonable requirements that interested developers could feasibly meet.

“The building is not on the tax digest so it’s not costing anything for the county to hold on to it, but it’s also not generating any county revenue. We want to be able to create revenue for the county from it,” says Vaughn.

Through an RFP, the county will have input into how the property is developed. Submitted proposals could be based on repurposing the existing building or on demolishing the original structure and building something completely new.

Fate of downtown gazebo and war monument

The IGA requires that the downtown gazebo and war monument be preserved.  (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

The IGA the Development Authority is expected to sign on July 14, has already been approved and signed by county commissioners. It lists five specific stipulations for the sale and development of the property:

  1. The minimum sale price will be determined by the county.
  2. The development proposal must preserve the gazebo. The gazebo may only be relocated if the county and city of Clarkesville both approve.
  3. The development proposal will preserve the veterans’ memorial in its current
    location. The county will retain an access easement for the maintenance and care of the memorial. The memorial may only be relocated if the Board of Commissioners votes to approve its relocation during a regular monthly meeting.
  4. As an alternative to potentially relocating the gazebo and veterans’ memorial, the county may retain the property they’re located on and provide for their continued maintenance and care.
  5. The county will bear the reasonable costs of the issuance and consideration of
    the RFPs produced.

“The HCDA will review the Panel’s recommendation and then forward their own to the commissioners,” says Beecham. “The commissioners can accept or reject the HCDA’s recommendation.”

Vaughn says the RFP should be available for developers in the next 45-60 days. Once released publicly, developers will have 30 days in which to submit their proposals for consideration. If no proposal is accepted, the building could be held for a while or put up for auction. Any decision like that would have to be voted on by the Board of Commissioners.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email