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U.S. moves ahead on new downtown L.A. courthouse

A $318-million contract is awarded to the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Clark Construction Group. The new facility will be built at Broadway and 1st Street.

December 17, 2012|By Sam Allen, Los Angeles Times
  • The 550,000-square-foot courthouse will feature a bright, serrated facade and a structural design that allows the cubic courthouse volume to appear to float over its stone base, officials said.
The 550,000-square-foot courthouse will feature a bright, serrated facade… (U.S. General Services Administration )

Downtown Los Angeles is finally getting its new federal courthouse, and it's going to stand out amid the aging government buildings in the Civic Center.

A 550,000-square-foot courthouse — planned for the southwest corner of Broadway and 1st Street, across from the old county law library and the Los Angeles Times building — will feature a bright, serrated facade and a structural design that allow the structure to appear to float over its stone base, officials said.

It will have a public plaza along 1st Street near recently opened Grand Park. Officials say the building's design has received a "platinum" rating for energy efficiency from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The U.S. General Services Administration is moving forward on the project despite last-minute opposition from some Republicans in Congress, who question the viability of the agency's plans to sell the federal courthouse on North Spring Street to private developers. The lawmakers also questioned whether the extra courtrooms were actually necessary.

The GSA awarded a $318-million contract last week to the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Clark Construction Group, and released several renderings of the proposed design. The building will rise on a 3.6-acre lot on Broadway that city officials have long wanted to develop.

"We are moving toward the groundbreaking of a critically needed facility that will resolve long-standing security and space issues," Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-East Los Angeles) said in a statement. "At a time when we need to keep investing in our recovering economy, we expect the courthouse to create thousands of new jobs in the construction industry and related businesses."

Peter Zellner, faculty member at Southern California Institute of Architecture, noted that the courthouse design in some ways is reminiscent of Mid-Century architectural styles of other Los Angeles government centers, particularly the Wilshire Federal Building. Zellner also suggested the architects consider the courthouse plaza as part of a chain of public spaces spilling down from the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The courthouse will include 24 courtrooms and 32 judicial chambers. Along with the judges of the U.S. District Court, the building will be used by the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. attorneys' office and the Federal Public Defender.

Federal judges have been pushing for new space downtown since the late 1990s. In addition to the Spring Street courthouse, federal judges occupy space elsewhere in downtown, but they have complained about overcrowding and security issues.

Construction on the courthouse is expected to begin sometime next year, with completion set for 2016, the GSA said.

The agency also announced that it had released a formal "request for information" to solicit ideas for adaptive reuse of one of the old federal courthouses, on North Spring Street. Under the agency's plan, the 72-year-old building would be sold to a private developer, with the proceeds to help finance construction of a second federal office building next to the new courthouse.

Some real estate experts have questioned whether the exchange proposal would be feasible, saying it could be difficult for a private owner to adapt the old courthouse because of its structural issues, location and historic status. And the Republican critics of the courthouse plan expressed concern that if the GSA could not manage to sell the old courthouse, it would be stuck with a vacant building and higher costs to taxpayers.

There is still no specific timeline on when the exchange would be made, a GSA spokeswoman said, but officials remain upbeat about the plan.

"This step is just another example of GSA's commitment to providing real value to the American public," said acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini.

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