CCA to close immigration detention center in Gainesville

A private corrections company announced Monday it will close a federal immigration detention center in Gainesville by the end of this month, citing a dwindling number of detainees.

Shutting down the North Georgia Detention Center could spell trouble for Gainesville’s economy.

As of May, Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America employed more than 130 people to operate the center. The payroll was $7 million, supplemented by about $295,000 in other local spending by CCA.

On top of that, CCA pays the city $825,000 in annual rent, money the city needs to help pay off $8.9 million in bonds it issued partly to buy the former jail last year.

The detention center has 502 beds, but it was recently holding only about 150 detainees.

“In recent years, we’ve seen a continuous decline in population at CCA’s North Georgia Detention Center,” CCA spokesman Steven Owen said in a prepared statement Monday. “After a thoughtful assessment of the situation, CCA has decided to close the facility prior to the end of 2013.”

The company said it will offer affected employees opportunities to transfer to other CCA facilities.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed Monday it would transfer detainees from North Georgia to other federal immigration detention centers in Stewart and Irwin counties.

Gainesville purchased the North Georgia facility from Hall County for $7.2 million last year and entered into a lease with CCA to operate it.

Gainesville Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Hamrick said city officials learned of CCA’s plans Monday.

“It was news to us,” he said. “Obviously, it is a blow to our employment here. But, hopefully, we can come up with some way to not only absorb the employees that will be laid off but also to find some use for that facility.”

Hamrick added he hopes the site will be redeveloped after the detention center closes.

“We have made the redevelopment of the midtown area a priority within the city,” he said.

As for how the city will pay off the bonds used to purchase the center, Hamrick said: “Obviously, that will be a hot topic for us to discuss in the next several days.”