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Feds want to trade old courthouse for new downtown L.A. building

A proposal to exchange the old Spring Street site for new offices next to a long-planned courthouse would save 'hundreds of millions of dollars,' an official says.

June 24, 2012|By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times
  • The Depression-era U.S. courthouse on Spring Street.
The Depression-era U.S. courthouse on Spring Street.

Federal officials want to construct a new office building next to a long-planned courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, a proposal that may appeal to congressional Republicans because of a novel development plan.

Both the courthouse and office building would be erected on a vacant, fenced-off site at 1st Street and Broadway. The office building would house the U.S. attorney and Department of Homeland Security workers.

Dan Tangherlini, acting administrator of the General Services Administration, is offering a novel plan that he says will save taxpayers millions of dollars: swapping the Spring Street site of the existing Depression-era U.S. courthouse with a developer who would, in exchange, construct the new office building at an estimated cost of $50 million to the developer.

The proposal arrives at a time when the GSA is under scrutiny on Capitol Hill, most notably for its $823,000 Las Vegas-area conference in 2010 but also for its management of federal properties. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), who chairs the House subcommittee overseeing federal buildings, has been critical of the courthouse project, calling it unnecessary.

However, on Friday he said, "It's about time GSA wants to dispose of the Spring Street property in L.A. I look forward to seeing the numbers that offer a reduction in the federal footprint and a reduction of the federal debt."

Plans for the long-stalled new courthouse are moving ahead, with a design-construction contract set to be awarded this fall, said Tangherlini in a letter to lawmakers. The courthouse is scheduled for completion in 2016.

Tangherlini said his proposal to exchange the "outdated" Spring Street courthouse for a new federal office building would save taxpayers "hundreds of millions of dollars in avoided renovation costs and lease payments."

"In line with the administration's goals, I believe this plan meets our responsibility to effectively utilize federal real estate and make decisions in a cost effective way," he said in a letter to lawmakers.

The developer who takes over the old courthouse would be responsible for building the new 150,000- to 175,000-gross-square-foot office building next to the proposed 650,000-square-foot courthouse.

How the old courthouse will be used may not be known until a developer steps forward with a proposal. In Washington, D.C., GSA officials have leased the Old Post Office Building to Donald Trump to turn into a luxury hotel.

Rep.Lucille Roybal-Allard(D-East Los Angeles), who recently took Tangherlini on a tour of downtown federal properties, cheered his proposal as "an innovative, practical, and fiscally responsible solution to meet our judiciary and federal work space needs in downtown L.A."

"Additionally, this project will contribute to the ongoing revitalization of the downtown area," Tangherlini said in a statement. He projected that it would cost the government $250 million to renovate the old courthouse and bring it up to seismic, fire and security requirements. A new office building, he said, would save an additional $10 million a year by providing space for federal workers now in rented quarters.

richard.simon@latimes.com

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