A parcel of land at 511-515 Elm Street in Biddeford, known as the Pate Property, will officially become the site of a consolidated York County courthouse in 2020, after the Biddeford City Council unanimously approved the sale of the property on Tuesday. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

A parcel of land at 511-515 Elm Street in Biddeford, known as the Pate Property, will officially become the site of a consolidated York County courthouse in 2020, after the Biddeford City Council unanimously approved the sale of the property on Tuesday. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — It’s official: the York County Courthouse will be coming to Biddeford.

The Biddeford City Council voted unanimously to sell two parcels of land on Tuesday, one at 511-515 Elm St., known as the Pate Property, and an adjacent parcel at 384 Hill St., to the Maine Governmental Facility Authority for $810,000 for the construction of a new, consolidated York County Courthouse.

The facility’s construction will mean closure of the existing superior court, which sits at the county-owned courthouse in Alfred and the district courts in Biddeford, Springvale and York, in favor of a single, 12-courtroom, 133,000-square-foot facility.

A court site selection commission comprised of legislators, law enforcement, attorneys and others chose the U.S. Route 1 site as the location for the new courthouse,in November. The council’s approval on Tuesday means construction on the $65 million facility, funded by legislation approved in the last session, can begin this year.

“I think this is a very prudent move for the city and the community and I support fully this,” said Councilor Bob Mills on Tuesday.

The city purchased the Pate Property and nearby parcels of land for $700,000 in 2014 with the hopes of using the 12-acre parcel of land as an industrial business park.

“The hope I had was we’d be able to develop (the Pate Property) and create business growth in that area because our parks are beginning to get maximum filled,” said Councilor Mark Lessard. “(This) was our way to be able to do that and have that option in the future.”

The parcel at 511-515 Elm St. is being sold to MGFA for $650,000. City Manager Jim Bennett said Tuesday a property at 516 Elm St., originally purchased along with the Pate Property for $50,000, is not included in the agreement and may be used for future development.

The adjoining Hill Street parcel, which was purchased by the city from Kennebunkport-based Mariner Tower for $1, is being sold to the state for $160,000 to be used as egress for the courthouse.

According to city documents, after demolition, interest on the property and a partial environmental assessment of the land, the city will profit $88,308 to go toward economic development.

Lessard said he supported the decision to approve the courthouse location due to the city’s profit and the potential for job creation and business development.

A memo by Economic Development Director Daniel Stevenson included in council documents estimates that about 68 people will be employed by the new facility and that as many as 584 people may visit the courthouse each day.

It is unclear how many, if any, new jobs will be created, as many existing employees will be pulled from the existing court locations to work at the consolidated Biddeford court.

“I don’t know how many are going to be new (jobs) to Biddeford. Quite frankly, many are probably consolidation of the three locations,” Bennett said, “But (they are) still going to be working in the community.”

“(But) when there’s a new courthouse, you usually have some redevelopment of the area around it as some attorneys and support services move into the area,” Bennett added.

Some have concerns about the new, Biddeford location.

Because it’s government-owned, the courthouse won’t generate property tax revenue for the c ity. Councilor Stephen St. Cyr and some others said they weren’t pleased by that.

County commissioners and other municipal officials have said the location could cost the county and its taxpayers money. Estimates provided by County Manager Greg Zinser say moving the court away from Alfred could cost  $530,000 annually.

Those costs include travel costs and gas mileage, providing additional corrections staff to handle inmates and courier services associated with transporting documents for the district attorney’s office.

Others have expressed their concerns over safety in moving the courthouse to Biddeford.

Republican Sen. David Woodsome of Waterboro has submitted a bill for consideration in the upcoming legislative session to keep the York County courts in their current locations, citing county costs, security and safety concerns. Woodsome said he would withdraw the bill if his concerns are addressed.

But others say the facility will be state-of-the art, secure and will ensure the safety of all who use it.

“We are very excited that the people of York County in a few years will have a very modern, safe and efficient courthouse,” said Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the Maine Judicial Branch, following the council’s vote on Tuesday.

“In fact, it is going to be the safest courthouse in the state,” she said. “Right now, we have four courthouses in York County. None of them have really secure holding facilities for the prisoners.”

Lynch said at the current superior court in Alfred, prisoners are detained near the library — which is open for use by lawyers and the public — potentially posing a safety threat. At the new court, she said, there will be multiple holding facilities employing the latest video and security technology to detain inmates.

“This will greatly enhance the safety of the people who use the courthouse,” Lynch said. “We’re really excited that the Biddeford City Council voted tonight to sell the property for the courthouse. It’s going to be a terrific location.”

— Staff writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]

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