Des Moines city officials have looked at designs for a $136 million federal courthouse on prime downtown development property and have seen a blank wall fronting one of the city’s main streets and blocking views of an iconic structure, along with bollards as security sentries along the Des Moines River.

In other words, it was not a pretty picture that was painted in a letter to the chief of the General Services Administration that protested the courthouse design. Mayor Frank Cownie signed the letter on behalf of the City Council, which approved it Monday.

And while the mayor and City Council are protesting the design, a small group of business leaders continues to protest the location of the federal courthouse at the site of the former Riverfront YMCA at 101 Locust St., long considered the last remaining prime development site downtown and along the river.

Polk County supervisors, Meredith Corp., Nixon Lauridsen and the Downtown Neighborhood Association also have drafted letters to Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley and Rep. Cindy Axne expressing their dismay at the site selected last year by the GSA for the federal courthouse. Read the four letters here. Read the letter from the city here.

Philanthropist and businessman Lauridsen calls the project “an egregious misuse of taxpayer money -- an outrageous boondoggle designed to stroke the egos of the GSA and create a palatial work environment for the small number of public servants who will occupy the building.”

Those public servants are federal judges and support crews. The judges are said to have guided the GSA to the former Riverfront Y site after the agency, the development arm of the federal government, considered other sites, including an area in the city’s Market District that was promoted by city officials in partnership with businessman and developer Jim Cownie and MidAmerican Energy Co.

The letter from the mayor and city councils complains that too much attention has been paid to the interior of the courthouse and not its exterior, public-facing sides along Locust Street and Grand and Second avenues.

Continue reading about critics' concerns regarding the courthouse site. Read more


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