City Leaders Urge Federal Government to Halt Federal Courthouse Proposal

DES MOINES, Iowa -- The property battle continues in downtown Des Moines.

It has been nearly three and a half years since an implosion brought down the old Riverfront YMCA, and the land it sat on is still vacant.

The former YMCA site along the river is one of the most sought-after pieces of real estate in Des Moines. The federal government wants to use the space for a new courthouse, but community, business and city leaders say this would be a mistake.

"Today, I stand before you frustrated, mad and hoping that all the elected officials will make the right decision," said Christine Hensley, a former longtime city councilwoman.

Hensley is leading the charge with current city council members like Connie Boesen, who want the General Services Administration to halt the proposed $137 million federal courthouse along the river walk.  "It's almost like fitting a size eight foot in a size six shoe. It just doesn't fit," said Boesen.

Hensley said a recent tour of the current courthouse and annex building proved a new building would waste taxpayer dollars.   Hensley said, "Prime corner office space with spectacular views of the river are now being used to store excess equipment including a large number of big screen televisions still in their boxes, computers and cell phones."

As a federal courthouse, the city will not receive property taxes from the site.  Meredith Corporation Communications Director Art Slusark says the business community wants something that enhances downtown.  "We could have something that would generate property taxes. An attraction to bring people downtown and spin off money to other businesses in town," he said.

Molly Weber has over four years of working experience inside the federal courthouse and believes a renovation could elevate the current building to ADA and security standards the federal government says the building may be lacking.  She said, "I don't think just because money is designated you have to spend it.  You have to think about when is the right time to spend it for the taxpayers."

Outside the current federal courthouse is a large plaque of the Bill of Rights.  Hensley believes the way the federal government is speeding the process along, the rights of Iowa taxpayers has been ignored.  "It's the federal government that just has the authority to do exactly what they want and they knew where they wanted to be and what they wanted to do and they don't really care what the citizens or the city is saying at this point," said Hensley.

While many feel they are not being heard, others are not giving up hope.  Hensley said, "I'm from the school of 'it is not done until they walk through the front door when it is constructed,' and so I'm not going to give up at this point."

Hensley said the GSA will decide Wednesday whether or not they will continue with the project proposal plans.

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