City Hopes Federal Government Will Reconsider New Courthouse Location

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  The General Services Administration has picked a spot to build a brand new federal courthouse in Des Moines, but the city hopes officials change their mind before they break ground.

“It limits our opportunity to catalyze development around it at a safe distance and takes a very valuable piece on the river that nothing else can happen around off the opportunity list for development, which is about tax dollars,” said Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie.

Mayor Cownie says a federal building and the security perimeter around it throws a wrench in the city's plan to make the Riverwalk a hub for entertainment, commerce, and walkability.  He also estimates due to not being able to develop near the courthouse, the city would lose between at least $60,000 to $80,000 a year in tax revenue.

City leaders say there were three other locations they would have much preferred. One is just south of East MLK and across the river from Principal Park. Leaders say the second, just north of East MLK, would help revitalize the Market District. They had also floated the idea of just renovating the original location. However, renovating was never a real option, as Cownie says the GSA wants a new courthouse for more parking, better accessibility for the disabled, and 21st century security features, which the current location could not provide.

On Facebook, Iowans offered mixed reactions on the plan.

“It should be a beautiful riverside park with some food options, etc. Not a bulky courthouse with a flooded first floor,” said Helen Copley.

“The access to the river and proposed changes to make it safer and more useable for kayaks and other activities is a very exciting development! A courthouse on this piece of property is definitely a step in the wrong direction,” said Philip Rogers.

“I’m thrilled. The courthouse will fit better with the older Beaux Arts buildings and the colonnades along the river,” said Pat Meiners.

Mayor Cownie hopes the federal government will reconsider.

“Lets finalize a site that's gonna benefit the court system, gonna benefit the City of Des Moines, and the citizens of all the state of Iowa for generations to come,” he said.

The GSA will provide a project summary and collect questions and comments at a public information session on Monday, July 17, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Central Library Meeting Room in Des Moines.