The U.S. General Services Administration is determined to develop a $136 million federal courthouse at a downtown Des Moines location that many believe will serve an injustice to development along the Des Moines River.

In an email Thursday to the Business Record, a GSA spokeswoman said the agency has put too much time and money into selecting and obtaining the site of the former Riverfront YMCA at 101 Locust St. to change course now.

“GSA performed extensive due diligence in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, which included reviews of multiple sites and ample opportunity for public input before selecting the final site and executing the purchase agreement with the property owner,” according to the email.

Since early March, the agency, the real estate development and management arm of the federal government, has come under criticism from the Des Moines City Council for the design of the structure. Polk County supervisors, Meredith Corp. leadership, businessman and philanthropist Nixon Lauridsen and the Downtown Neighborhood Association have sent letters protesting the location to U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Charles Grassley and U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne.

The mood at City Hall appears to be that the GSA has made up its mind. City Councilman Joe Gatto said in voting to approve the letter that the selection “ship has sailed.”

Said another city official: “They seemed receptive to our recommendations, however we did not receive any assurances at this point in time,” a city official said.


“GSA looks forward to continuing its collaboration and partnership with the Des Moines City Council and the area economic development community by sharing our progress and plans and engaging in regular dialogue, so we can all move forward toward project completion,” according to the email from the GSA’s regional office in Kansas City.

A meeting that had been called to today by the Greater Des Moines Partnership to bring various parties together in an informational meeting. However, the meeting was canceled at GSA’s request.


“GSA requested that the April 5 meeting be postponed until the concerns mentioned by the City Council in their March 25, 2019 letter can be addressed,” according to the GSA email.

Instead, “GSA plans to fully address the City’s interests in line with the other requirements associated with this project,” according to the email.

Additional reporting on the federal courthouse: