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

The Spring Street courthouse.

Federal officials want to construct a new office building in downtown Los Angeles, next to a long-planned courthouse, but the proposal could draw scrutiny from congressional Republicans.

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.

The proposal for a second government building is surprising given that the courthouse’s $400-million cost has drawn GOP opposition.

But the head of the General Services Administration is offering a novel plan that he says will save taxpayers millions of dollars: He proposes 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 has come 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. He was not immediately available to comment on the new proposal.

But Dan Tangherlini, the GSA’s acting administrator, said in a letter to lawmakers that plans for the long-stalled courthouse are moving ahead, with a design-construction contract set to be awarded this fall. 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Tangherlini said his proposal to exchange the “outdated" Spring Street courthouse for a new federal office building would save taxpayers "hundreds of millions of dollars in avoided renovation costs and lease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.

It may not be known until a developer steps forward with a proposal how the old courthouse might be used. 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-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 workspace needs in downtown L.A."

"Additionally, this project will contribute to the ongoing revitalization of the downtown area," Tangherlini said in a statement.

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-- Richard Simon at The Times' Washington Bureau

Photo: The Spring Street courthouse. Credit: Los Angeles Times

 
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