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GSA releases renderings of federal courthouse


A rendering of the proposed federal courthouse shows the five-story building that is planned for 101 Locust St. This view is looking west from Locust Street and the Des Moines River. Provided by U.S. General Services Administration

The U.S. General Services Administration today released the long-awaited architectural renderings of the $137 million federal courthouse proposed for the west side of the Des Moines River.

The approval is a signal the project is moving forward despite protests from Des Moines civic and community leaders.

The renderings show the building 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.

City officials and others were shown designs of the courthouse earlier this year and described what they saw as “a box.”

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie, in an interview with the Business Record, said GSA officials listened to officials’ concerns.

“They’ve come up with a far better design,” he said. “We appreciate them working with us and addressing our concerns.”

Cownie said he continues to be disappointed that the courthouse will be built on prime riverfront property. 

One of the biggest opponents of the project was unswayed by the latest plans. “I’m extremely disappointed,” said Christine Hensley, former Des Moines city councilwoman who has been vocal about her opposition to the project. “It’s not about the design; it’s about wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.” 

In August, the GSA announced it had selected the former Riverfront YMCA site at 101 Locust St. to build the new federal courthouse. The site was one of several the GSA considered before making its final decision.

The land is along the Principal Riverwalk, and local officials have argued that taking the property off the property tax rolls would have a long-term negative impact on Des Moines. Several business and community leaders wrote letters to Iowa’s congressional delegation in opposition to the selection of the riverfront site.

In the past two weeks, other community leaders have called construction of a new courthouse a waste of taxpayer dollars because the current facilities are still in good condition and have space to accommodate court functions.

At a news conference earlier this week, local leaders called on the project to be halted. 
Cownie acknowledged there’s likely nothing that will dissuade the GSA from moving forward on building the new courthouse on the former Y site.

“At this point I don’t see any way they are going to switch it to a different site,” Cownie said. 
The GSA, in its news release, wrote that the design of the new courthouse satisfies the needs of the Southern District of Iowa. In addition, it wrote that money will be saved when courthouse functions are moved out of the leased space in the Courthouse Annex, built in 1995 at 110 E. Court Ave. 

To date, more than $10 million has been invested in the project, which is scheduled to be completed by fall of 2022, according to the GSA. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for late summer.

The design can still be changed slightly to comply with budget and security requirements, according to the GSA release

“This is an important step toward building a functional, secure, and critically needed courthouse that will serve the court and the public for many decades,” said Chief Judge John Jarvey said in a prepared release.

Here are previous Business Record stories: 

We have to be respectful stewards of the taxpayers’ money’
They came back and gave us a box’
Proposed federal courthouse still raising some local ire
Elbert: GSA protects its ‘eyesore’


This GSA architectural rendering shows what the new federal courthouse would look like from the intersection of Second Avenue and Locust Street.

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