Columbia, Richland County officials working on plan for new joint courthouse downtown

cleblanc@thestate.comMay 7, 2013 

Columbia might get a new downtown courthouse and city government could consolidate its offices into a municipal government complex that straddles City Hall and the current courthouse, Mayor Steve Benjamin said Tuesday.

Talks among politicians in city and county government, the Richland County Bar and the chief 5th Circuit judge – who is the mayor’s wife – have been under way for a few months but are preliminary, the mayor disclosed when council appointed three of its members to a working group.

Early talks call for authorizing a bond that taxpayers would pay off, splitting costs with the county and having one courthouse to house city and statewide courts, Benjamin told The State newspaper after the vote at the end of council’s meeting.

Neither price tags nor locations have been spelled out yet, he said. If the working group decides to move ahead, it would like to have a full plan to release in the fall, Benjamin said.

“We need a new courthouse,” he said, repeating what occupants of the current building have complained about for years: The Richland County Judicial Center at Main and Blanding streets is inadequate, uncomfortable and gobbles energy despite its eye-catching, award-winning design.

The county has studied constructing a new courthouse on its own at least three times, Benjamin said. Now, the city is willing to join the county, perhaps buy the courthouse and convert it into offices for city workers who occupy the seven-story building on Washington Street, which Benjamin said the city owns.

That would allow the city to replace concrete parking lots that sit between City Hall and the courthouse with landscaped green space, a courtyard of sorts, Benjamin said.

The city would seek to sell its Washington Street office to a developer who would put the property back on the tax roll, he said.

City Council appointed its three attorneys to the working group: Benjamin, Tameika Isaac Devine and Brian DeQuincey Newman.

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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