10 years and $20 million later, still no new federal courthouse - Live5News.com | Charleston, SC | News, Weather, Sports

10 years and $20M later, new federal courthouse remains unbuilt


Ten years ago Monday, the federal government bought prime land in downtown Nashville for a new federal courthouse then spent another $21 million for architect's fees, but the project has never been built.

The federal courthouse is supposed to be built on 3 1/3 acres along Church Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues South, where there's now a parking lot and some boarded up buildings.

But the project appears to be in a holding pattern, and some say it's time to do something else with the land.

To a real estate broker like Richard Wallace, an empty block of downtown property is a wasted opportunity.

"It's really a great location," Wallace said.

The government had grand plans for a new courthouse and taxpayers shelled out $1.9 million to buy the land plus another $21 million in architect's fees, but the project is not expected to break ground anytime soon.

"The federal government has already bought the property, so one day we'll be getting it. It's just a matter of when," said U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville.

Cooper says he still supports the project, which has been slowed by budget deficits and because of the controversy in the federal courthouse building program.

The Government Accountability Office - the independent, nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress charged with examining matters relating to the receipt and payment of public funds - wants future courthouse projects reevaluated.

"We found in 2010 that recent federal courthouses had been constructed larger than necessary because of poor planning, oversight and inefficient courtroom use," the agency says in a report.

The GAO found that in a 10-year period, the government built 33 courthouses with a grand total of more than 3.5 million square feet of space that wasn't needed.

But Cooper says the current federal courthouse is outdated with a layout that doesn't work.

"Part of it is the ability to carry on a fair trial. The jurors shouldn't be able to see the defendants in handcuffs in the hallway," Cooper said.

In Wallace's opinion, the taxpayers would be better served if the land for the new courthouse was sold or developed.

Eliminate the maintenance on the empty buildings, he says, and get a block of valuable land back on the tax rolls.

"There's over $20 million of assessment on this property. And, of course, the federal government is exempt from paying taxes. So, we've got to do something with these properties," Wallace said.

A bill was introduced in Washington by a Pennsylvania congressman two months ago that is designed to reform the way the General Services Administration builds and manages federal buildings.

The bill would also limit the size of courthouses.

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