Earlier this year, the Federal District Court announced they would be not be renewing the lease of the current federal courthouse, 30 W. Government St., in December 2018 due to a host of problems with the building.

PANAMA CITY — To keep the federal courthouse in Panama City, Bay County is preparing to offer the federal government an option to rent the Bay County Juvenile Justice Courthouse on 11th Street.

“This is our one turnkey opportunity,” said Carol Roberts, president of the Bay County Chamber of Commerce.

Earlier this year, the Federal District Court announced they would be not be renewing the lease of the current federal courthouse, 30 W. Government St., in December 2018 due to a host of problems with the building.

The realization kicked off a grass-roots movement, spearheaded by the Chamber of Commerce, to keep the courthouse in Panama City. The movement has been backed by the Panama City Commission, the Downtown Improvement Board and other groups, who note the court is responsible for 27 direct jobs and 100 indirect jobs and provides a steady flow of visitors to the area.

Finding a solution that could work by December 2018 deadline has been the hardest part, according to officials. They had looked at private-sector buildings and toured numerous buildings around the city that could be converted, but nothing seemed like it could be ready in time.

Court officials “were trying to gently let us down,” according to County Manager Bob Majka. Court officials were unwilling to extend the lease on the current building, and a congressional mandate to downsize federal courthouses was presenting another obstacle.

“Very politely,” Majka said, officials were telling us to “stop investing your time.”

But hearing that launched another late-night brainstorming session that provided one final idea that court officials now are seeming to get behind.

The county is offering to lease the Juvenile Justice Court facility to the government for $47,000 a month, the same lease that is being paid for the current facility. The building can be ready by the December 2018 deadline.

Using the money from the lease, the county can afford to pay down the debt on the juvenile facility and build a new juvenile courthouse on the same campus as the Bay County Courthouse, Majka said.

However, building a new facility likely would take about 24 months, meaning the new courthouse wouldn’t be ready by December 2018. Therefore, the current plan is to renovate the current Panama City Hall to use as a temporary courthouse while the new one is being built. Majka said the longest the City Hall would be used is through August 2019, so it should not slow down the marina project.

“Given more time we could come up with more solutions, but there is no extension on the December 2018 deadline,” said Commissioner Tommy Hamm, who is part of the courthouse task force.

The plan still has to be approved by the County Commission, which is slated to vote on the matter during Tuesday’s meeting, the Panama City Commission and multiple federal agencies. But, officials say, this plan is much more workable than previous ideas that ranged from converting movie theaters to post offices.

“We’ve taken two federal judges on tours, and they could not wipe the smiles off their face,” Roberts said. “They could not believe they could have this for what they are currently paying for that.”

Crunching the numbers, Majka says the proposal works. Providing the commission approves it, the county is ready to start preparing formal proposals using staff. However, Majka said the county will not spend money until the federal government confirms in writing they intend to lease the building.

In the meantime, the Chamber of Commerce has hired former Congressman Steve Southerland to lobby for the project and continued funding. The task force also has nominated locals to fill the two open federal judge positions and to the judicial nominating commission.