By District 1 Supervisor Heidi Hall and Nevada City Mayor Doug Fleming
We would have preferred the Nevada County Courthouse to remain at the top of Church Street in the heart of downtown Nevada City where it’s been since 1864 (though the first courthouse was a log structure built on Broad Street in 1851).
For over 150 years, Nevada County’s Courthouse has been the “historic, civic, cultural and economic centerpiece for Nevada County,” as noted by our Superior Court Judges. We appreciate the Judges’ warning: “There is a foreseeable risk that an empty, downtown courthouse could become a blight for the entire community…”
However, we accept the Judicial Council of California’s (JCC) decision to build a new courthouse at a new location within the greater Nevada City area. The JCC has an $8 Million request in Governor Newsom’s budget for acquisition in 2023, a sure sign of the State’s commitment to a new $178 Million courthouse with six courtrooms on a 4-5-acre lot.
What we will never accept is a vacant “zombie building” decaying on our watch.
Although a new courthouse likely won’t open before 2028 or even 2030, it’s not too soon to plan how the building may be re-used. That’s why we have teamed up to ensure that the County and the City work collaboratively with the Courts to ensure a smooth transition that includes the ongoing maintenance and ultimate re-use of the facility for the community’s benefit.
To that end, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors plans to allocate funds for a “highest and best use study.” (According to the Dictionary of Real Estate Appraisal the “Highest and best use is a real estate appraisal principle that refers to the most profitable, legally permissible, physically possible, and financially feasible use of a property, which maximizes its value.”)
Fancy terminology aside, our interest in commissioning this study is to provide a process for residents and stakeholders to engage in shaping the building’s future starting later this year.
We believe Nevada City deserves to have the courthouse re-purposed in a way that continues to contribute to the city’s dynamic culture and benefits our local economy. We welcome the community’s ideas for realistic, alternative re-uses of the building.
Already, we have heard enthusiasm for ideas ranging from affordable housing to a college. Many community members wish to preserve the historic Art Moderne facade and other building elements. Community concerns also include development of the parking area adjacent to the Courthouse. All of this, and more, will be considered.
A new use must also replace the economic engine that has been the courthouse with its many visitors and employees – including the District Attorney, the Public Defender, the Probation Office, and private counsel, who may be drawn away from the downtown to the new courthouse. The JCC study estimated that moving the courthouse “could result in approximately six percent decline in downtown economic activity,” around $1.9 million annually.
As the Mayor of Nevada City and the County Supervisor for District 1, which includes Nevada City, we pledge to work together to make the best of this situation. We invite the community to join us and participate in determining the “highest and best use” of our historic courthouse that will once again enhance and activate our vibrant downtown.