Nashville’s federal-courthouse wait will continue to drag on.
Despite ranking No. 2 on a national priority list, funding for Nashville’s long-anticipated new $173.5 million federal courthouse remains unavailable in the immediate future, U.S. Jim Cooper indicated Thursday.
At a roundtable discussion with reporters Thursday morning, Cooper said for years others “jumped the line” and leapfrogged Nashville for highly coveted federal courthouse dollars, explaining why a project conceived years ago still isn’t a reality. Cooper, a Blue Dog Democrat, is a staunch opponent of using earmarks to land projects.
The federal government deemed the existing Estes Kefauver Federal Courthouse on Broadway inadequate in 1992. The new courthouse is slated to go along Church Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues.
The recent establishment of the U.S. House’s Courthouse Caucus has helped eliminate some of the political maneuvering and “line jumping” for new courthouses, Cooper said. Now the issue is a struggling economy –– and a lack of federal dollars.
“We’re second in the national priority list,” Cooper told reporters inside his downtown Nashville office, two blocks from where the city’s new federal courthouse is envisioned to go. “As long as another courthouse doesn’t burn down or get destroyed by an earthquake, I think we’ll stay there.
“So as soon as the budget improves, we’ll be there ready for a new courthouse,” he said.
The U.S. Judicial Conference’s five-year plan for ready-to-build courthouses lists Nashville second overall. Mobile, Ala., which has plans for a $140.3 million federal courthouse, is the only city sitting ahead of Nashville.
“For years, we’ve been trending toward the top, but somebody else would jump in ahead of us –– usually someone who serves on the [U.S. House] Appropriations Committee,” Cooper said. “They’re the most famous line jumpers.”
The Mobile and Nashville courthouses were originally slated to receive dollars during the ongoing fiscal year, but funding was never authorized.
Given the delay, Cooper discussed a “property wrinkle” that could potentially change design plans.
Cooper said property owners of the Berger Building, a historic property from which a toy museum once operated, have indicated a willingness to sell the building after previously refusing to do so.
Under current design plans, the new federal courthouse would surround the Berger Building, which sits across the street from The Standard on Rosa Parks Boulevard. Cooper said the close proximity of the building to the future courthouse raises security concerns.
“Do you want a non-controlled property in one of the most secured spaces in America?” Cooper said. “Part of the reason for the new courthouse is that the Estes Kefauver building is too close to the street and is too vulnerable.
“I’ve asked the question, and I think it’s a legitimate question: Given the delay, would this alter the plan, the footprint of the courthouse if you don’t have to have security around this in holding?” Cooper said.
Cooper said he “respects and loves” historic properties, but pointed out the new courthouse presents a unique situation.
“In general, I love historic properties, but if the government’s going to come and make a huge investment here, shouldn’t we at least focus on this issue and ask this security question?” Cooper said.