Bay County and Courts leadership discuss future of federal courthouse project

Bay County

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Local leadership is figuring out the next steps after the plans for a federal courthouse in Panama City were shot down last week.

On Friday, News 13 broke the story that the General Services Administration (GSA) sent a letter to the county asking to terminate their lease for the Juvenile Justice Center on 11th Street, which was being renovated to become a federal courthouse.

However, the GSA said in their letter that the federal courts have refused to occupy the building and no other federal agencies have any need for it either. 

On Thursday, the Courts and Clerks Facilities Committee met to discuss this new development in the project and how to move forward.

“For the past three years I’ve spent many hours working on this project,” said Keith Bryant, Bay County’s Chief Infrastructure Officer. “I was disappointed to see it change direction.”

14th Circuit Court Chief Judge Christopher Patterson said last week’s letter was somewhat expected. 

“We did have some indication of this from last year,” he said, mentioning the letter sent last year by Northwest Florida District Chief Judge Mark Walker. In the letter he expressed extreme displeasure with the project, and made it clear that he would not be moving to the JJC citing health and safety concerns.

“The courts were concerned, they’ve had a sick building in Pensacola is what I understand,” said Bryant. “They’re a little gun shy of getting into another sick building.”

Bay County leaders said they addressed those concerns.

“We’ve got a clean bill of health, we know the building is safe,” said Bay County Commission Chairman, Robert Carroll. “We would never put a life in a building that would have been a hazard. We just wouldn’t do that.”

Carroll said they’re waiting for more direction from the GSA and he hopes the courts reconsider, but doesn’t have much hope for that outcome.

“Bay County deserves a federal courthouse, I don’t think any of our residents or citizens need to drive to Tallahassee or Pensacola if they’re summoned for jury duty for federal court,” he said. ”We don’t know if it’s because they want a brand new facility or what the issue is but hopefully they’ll come to some kind of resolution whether it’s not this building that they’ll go down another path and still have a federal court here in Bay County because our citizens deserve it.”

County leaders do anticipate being reimbursed totally for the four million dollars already spent on the project. Judge Patterson said they’re now working on design plans and options to occupy the JJC themselves.

The Courts and Clerks Facilities Committee will meet again to discuss those options in two to three weeks.

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