"Today is a historic day," Strauss told about 30 judges, magistrates, police, bankers and other community leaders who had been working on the project.
The county has about 25,000 square feet of court space, but it will need at least three times that amount to meet the county's needs over the next 25 years, said Ken Jendura, a representative of Spillis Candela DMJM, an Arlington, Va., firm that was hired to help plan the project.
The former Blue Ridge Outlets complex has about 225,000 square feet.
The Community and Technical College of Shepherd, which moved into the complex last year, will lease 30,000 square feet from the county.
Under the arrangement, the college will move from the complex's Berkeley building to the Dunn building, Strauss said.
The remaining $1.2 million above the purchase price will be used to begin the renovation process and to pay engineering fees, Strauss said. Converting the former outlet building into a courthouse will cost more than that, but the amount has not been determined, Strauss said.
Strauss said he expects the complex to be ready for occupancy by 2005.
Commissioner Robert L. Burkhart said he doesn't think it will be necessary to raise taxes to pay for the building. The county is close to paying off a debt on administration buildings it owns at 110 and 126 W. King St., which will free up money for the court complex, said Strauss.
The $150,000 that Shepherd College will pay the county every year to lease space in the complex will also help, said Strauss.
The commissioners said building a new court complex would have cost $30 million and they expect the renovation of the Blue Ridge complex to cost less than half of it.
Other sites rejected
Jendura said other possibilities were considered, such as building a new court complex on what is referred to as the "school site," a county parking area next to the Berkeley County Planning Commission office on King Street.
A drawback to that proposal is that a parking garage would have had to be built to provide parking for the building, said Jendura.
The former Blue Ridge Outlet complex has about 400 parking spaces, along with other advantages, such as a T-1 fiber-optic line, Jendura said.
Because the commissioners cannot buy property when doing so would entail paying interest, the complex will be purchased by the Berkeley County Building Commission, an agency set up to assist the commission in buying properties.
The complex will be purchased from State Street Bank, a national banking company that foreclosed on the buildings in July, the county's attorney, Norwood Bentley, said.
Praising the move
Judges, city officials and others at the meeting praised the commissioners' move.
Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes said the new complex will end the need for court officials to be "stepping over this and around that."
"Let's face it. If we didn't move in, what would be the future use of those buildings?" said Wilkes.
Other prospective buyers had considered the building for a variety of uses, including a call center, industrial use and a mix of offices and retail, said Joel Tornabeni of Donohoe Real Estate Services, which marketed the building for State Street Bank.
City Manager Mark Baldwin said the complex will be an impressive addition to downtown. "It's a positive attribute for all the development that's occurring," said Baldwin.
The nine banks that loaned the money were City National Bank, BB&T, Centra Bank Inc., Jefferson Security Bank, First United Bank and Trust, Bank of Charles Town, F&M Bank, Huntington Banks and Citizens National Bank.
At one time, the Blue Ridge Outlet Center had more than 50 stores. It shut down in April 2000 after 16 years of operation.
On July 9, 2001, the Berkeley, Dunn and Crawford buildings and a parking lot were sold at auction after the owner, Blue Ridge Outlet Association Limited Partnership III, including general partner Moncure Chatfield-Taylor, defaulted on a $13.5 million loan.
The lender, State Street Bank and Trust Co., bought the outlet center for $4.65 million.
The complex of buildings along Stephen and Raleigh streets which became the Blue Ridge Outlet Stores in the mid-1980s began as a collection of textile mills that produced clothing, woolen yard goods and upholstery for automobiles.
Those mills included the Dunn Woolen Co., which closed in the early 1950s and was later home to a furniture manufacturing firm.
Jefferson Manufacturing Company, located across Stephen Street from the Dunn Building, produced and sold women's clothing into the 1970s.
Other buildings in the complex had been vacant for some time before the Blue Ridge Outlets opened in 1984.
The Clock Building - once an A&P a block east of the main outlet complex - was sold to the Catholic Diocese several years ago and remodeled into St. Joseph's Parish School.