The City of Rockford will buy the former 63rd District Court building at City Hall for 10 dollars and allow Kent County to lease a portion of it for up to 75 years. The Kent County Board of Commissioners approved the deal on Tuesday, Dec. 15, after Rockford City Council did late last month.
“One of the stipulations is, if we win our lawsuit, that building immediately reverts back to county property, so they can bring the court back,” said Rockford City Manager Michael Young. “Our main focus is on bringing the court back to Rockford.”
The City has had a long understanding to have the right of first refusal if the building were to come up for sale, and Young said he believes the city should control the building at 105 Maple Street. Both the court building and City Hall were built after removing residential homes from the block.
The City believes a court presence is required by law in the city and hopes to have recently moved Judge Servaas back in residence in the Rockford court building. Servaas and the former staff of the court are now working in a new court building in Grand Rapids Township.
Kent County contends the presence of a part-time magistrate fulfills the legal requirements for a court presence in the City of Rockford. A judge ruled that a court presence was required, but failed to define what the phrase actually means. A suit is currently in appeal, asking for a full court to be reinstated.
Young said he is surprised a ruling hasn’t yet been produced, but said he is hopeful because it has taken so long to rule. “If it was cut and dried, we probably would have heard by now,” he said.
Young also said gaining control of the building will also make it easier to reinstate a court presence. “If the county put something else in there, like the health department, it would be harder to bring the court back,” he said.
Nonprofit organizations such as the Rockford Chamber of Commerce or the Rockford Area Arts Commission may eventually be housed in the portion of the building the county will not use.