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Federal courthouse construction to begin mid-July


A view of the new federal courthouse looking westward from the Des Moines Riverfront. Architectural rendering courtesy of Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects.


Construction is expected to begin in mid-July on the federal courthouse in downtown Des Moines with a groundbreaking ceremony planned for late August, according to the U.S. General Services Administration. 

Plans to build a new courthouse are moving forward even though Des Moines officials and civic leaders oppose constructing the structure on prime downtown riverfront real estate.

The GSA last August announced that the courthouse would be built on the site of the former Riverfront YMCA at 101 Locust St. which is along the Principal Riverwalk. Local officials have argued that taking the property off the property tax rolls would have a long-term negative impact on Des Moines.

In early June, the Des Moines City Council sent a letter to GSA asking for the project to be terminated. It was the second such letter the council has sent to GSA.

The $137 million project “will inflict long-term social and economic harm on [Des Moines] by impairing the Riverwalk, a centerpiece of our long-term plan to attract talent, tourism and investment to Des Moines,” the council wrote in the June 5 letter. “We feel this is a careless use of taxpayer dollars as the proposed Federal Courthouse will house 36 fewer employees than the existing facilities and does not account for the future growth of the Courts.”

The GSA has not responded to the letter, city officials said.

In May, Des Moines business and community leaders held a news conference asking for the project to be halted because they believed a new facility was not needed. The current federal courthouse at 123 E. Walnut St. and its nearby annex are still in good condition and have space to accommodate court functions, they said. 

A couple of days after the news conference, the GSA released architectural renderings for the new federal courthouse, which will be five stories with large windows. The top four floors sit on columns that go around the building. The first floor is recessed under the other floors.

The GSA plans in mid-July to issue a notice to Ryan Cos. Inc., the project’s general contractor, that construction can begin. Completion is expected by fall 2022.

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