Moving fears: A relocated Nevada County Courthouse scores highest in study
Supporters of the Nevada County Courthouse staying put got some bad news this week.
A study released by the Judicial Council of California puts the option of relocating the downtown Nevada City courthouse at a new site in the top spot in a series of rankings. That option would also cost the least, at $172 million.
The second choice — a complete rebuild of the existing building — would cost $247 million. The third choice — remodeling the existing building — would cost $220 million.
There has been no final decision made by the Judicial Council of California about which choice will be made. Nevada City staff hopes to draft a response to the study before the council’s next meeting.
“They said they had major issues accommodating a well functioning courthouse within the existing building footprint and undersized site,” Nevada City Manager Sean Grayson said at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
Supporters have argued the main reason to keep the courthouse downtown is economic, though historic preservation ranks high as well. The Judicial Council of California study said the courthouse in downtown accounts for $2.4 million annually in downtown businesses.
Moving the courthouse out of downtown would lead to a 8.4% reduction in downtown restaurant sales and 6.3% reduction citywide.
“More than 75% of restaurant sales come from downtown restaurants and they make up 17% of the city’s total sales,” Grayson said. “Direct impacts are $1.8 million lost sales per year or roughly 5.8% of all downtown sales.
Mayor Duane Strawser reasoned when regarding a $60 million to $70 million difference in costs between buildings, downtown businesses would recoup that fairly quickly.
“When you’re looking at $1.5 to $2 million per year lost sales of restaurant revenue, much of that goes right back into the state’s pockets,” he said. “That’s a validation of something we can use as our argument.”
Strawser added that a prior study on the courthouse he participated in several years ago showed a greater loss than what’s currently shown.
“So, $1.8 million loss in sales was most likely skewed with the last two to three years with COVID,” he said. “We think the loss in sales is quite a bit greater than what the JCC came up with.”
Vice Mayor Doug Fleming said the council should inform the JCC that moving the courthouse would “rip the (economic) heart out of the city.”
“It would help to say to the JCC, ‘Look, you can’t leave us with a zombie building. If the courthouse leaves downtown, you’ve got to put something back in there.’”
Grayson said all potential future sites for the courthouse were within the city.
“But that’s not in anyway a commitment (to not leave the city),” he said. “But it’s certainly a financial basis for placement of a building and all these sites were along the Golden Chain Highway corridor that they referenced in their study.”
William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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