New Look for downtown

By JASMINE STEVERSON JSTEVERSON@DDTONLINE.COM,

The construction of a new federal courthouse in Downtown Greenville has taken a circuitous path to Wednesday’s unveiling of the design for the building.

The new, modern, design was unveiled on Wednesday at the William Alexander Percy Library in Greenville. The location was befitting since the design concept of the building calls to the shape of a Lanterns on the Levee, the title of Percy’s seminal memoir from 1941.

While the discussion of a courthouse in Greenville has recently centered on where the courthouse would end up in the city, it being in the city at all was a concern a few years ago.

“At one point in time there was a little rift between Cleveland and Greenville getting it, but we thank God for Greenville getting it,” Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons said at the unveiling. He introduced Chief U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Mississippi, Sharion Aycock, who acknowledged fellow judges and those who played an integral role in the process.

Judge Aycock spoke to the audience about interior concepts of the design being unveiled and the hard work, effort and significance of the new federal courthouse design after going to Washington, D.C. on last week with others to get the concept approved.

“There are 11 federal courthouses being constructed in the United States, some of that was during the same time we received our appropriation for this courthouse and we repeatedly last week heard people say that this was a beautiful design, that it was well designed, very efficient and within budget,” Judge Aycock said. “I can tell you from many of my personal conversations that I had with the late Senator Thad Cochran, he wanted this to be a project that would help the town of Greenville.”

Roy and Anne Decker, the founders of Duvall Decker Architects P.A., also spoke about their design team leading the charge for the new federal courthouse architectural concept.

Decker took the audience through an extensive view of the future courthouse from the interior and courtyard features to the garden and greenery that will be surrounding the courthouse and will aid in its efficiency.

He elaborated on the importance of Stein Mart Square to the community as it has been a hub for many events such as the Delta Hot Tamale Festival.

“We had to not just know the courts and know the budget, we had to understand how it really connects and makes sense and becomes a Greenville project,” Decker said, which is why he said he incorporated historical attributes of Greenville into his design like the Lanterns on the Levee featured in Percy’s personal memoirs from 1941.

Dr. Ned Kronfol, who was in attendance said that this project is much needed. “This is wonderful for Greenville and the downtown area especially. Greenville needed a boost like that to improve downtown,” he said.

In early July 2017, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced three potential locations for Greenville’s new multi-million dollar federal courthouse which included:  the Levee Site on Central Street; Stein Mart Square at South Poplar Street and Washington Avenue; and the Elks Lodge on Washington Avenue.

That following July, the Elks Lodge was no longer being considered as the new courthouse site for a bevy of reasons, one being the lodge’s placement by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History as a contributing factor to the National Historic Register status of downtown Greenville.

James Weller, regional commissioner of the GSA’s public buildings service said the Stein Mart Site best fulfills the purpose and need of the project.

In his report, he concluded Stein Mart Square was more favorable than the Levee Site because it “would not require additional research, investigations and possible mitigation with regards to potential historic site contamination issues present at the Levee Site,” which can be extremely costly and time-consuming to the federal government.

Former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran made provisions to set funding aside for the courthouse in December 2015 in the fiscal year 2016 ominous appropriations bills.

The funds for construction of the courthouse and purchase of property were set aside by the U.S. General Services Administration as part of $136 million in the FY16 Omnibus Spending Bill for two federal courthouse projects in the agency’s Southeast Sunbelt Region, one of which is in Greenville.

“The authorizations mark an important step in moving these courthouse projects forward,” Mike Goodwin, GSA Regional Commissioner for the Southeast Sunbelt Region, said in a press release at the time. “This investment will help GSA support the judiciary’s mission and prompt local economic development.” 

The City of Greenville in December 2015 received about $46 million through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, which was pushed by Cochran and passed by a 65-33 vote in the Senate and 316-113 roll call vote in the House.

Cochran, as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, played an integral role in development and passage of the 2,009-page spending bill that contains $6.78 billion in discretionary funding for the federal Judiciary.

When completed, Greenville’s new federal courthouse will provide two courtrooms with three judicial chambers for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi. Other tenants will include 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.