Hearing set to consider downtown Chattanooga sites for new federal courthouse

Staff file photo / The Joel W. Solomon Federal Building was erected in 1932 and 1933 on Georgia Avenue in downtown Chattanooga.

Nearly a century after Chattanooga's existing federal courthouse was erected on Georgia Avenue during the Great Depression, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is preparing to build a new and larger courthouse complex at one of three other sites in downtown Chattanooga.

GSA is seeking public comments this month about what would be the best location for a new federal courthouse to replace the aging Joel Solomon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, which no longer meets today's security and accessibility standards for federal buildings. Congress has authorized $218.4 million to build the new facility, which could combine federal offices and courtrooms now spread across three downtown Chattanooga buildings.

A hearing on the three sites that GSA has selected for the new courthouse is scheduled from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on June 14 at the Mac Avenue Event Space, 1304 McCallie Ave.

As part of its public scoping for the site studies, GSA is also accepting written comments on each of the proposed sites until July 1.

In January, federal officials announced that they had short listed three potential sites in downtown Chattanooga to build the proposed new 186,000-square-foot courthouse building. The sites being considered for the new courthouse are:

— A portion of the Tennessee Valley Authority Chattanooga Office Complex bounded by West 11th Street on the north, Market Street on the east, West 12th Street on the south and Chestnut Street on the west. TVA no longer uses much of the space in its 1.2 million-square-foot Chattanooga office facility originally built in 1986. TVA has trimmed its overall staff and shifted many of its office employees to remote or hybrid work.

— The existing Chattanooga Lookouts stadium site on Hawk Hill. The Lookouts are planning to move into a new stadium on the city's Southside by 2025, vacating the baseball stadium that was erected in 2000.

— A site along 8th Street bounded by Lindsay Street on the west, E. 8th Street on the north, Houston Street on the east, and extending south to include 814 Lindsay Street.

GSA will need to conduct an environmental review of the sites to help determine which would be the best location for the new courthouse. The government is seeking 2 to 5 acres to build the courthouse, which will be designed to allow federal prisoners and others to enter the building through an underground passageway.

The new building will provide seven courtrooms, nine judge chambers and offices for court-related agencies along with 39 inside, secured parking spaces. The facility will also provide space for the District Clerk, U.S. Probation Office, Bankruptcy Clerk, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Attorney's Office, Federal Public Defender and GSA itself.

The project is projected to meet the 10-year space needs of the courts and court-related agencies and GSA said the site will accommodate expansion to meet the anticipated 30-year needs of the courts.

Kevin Kerns, the acting regional administrator for the GSA in Atlanta, said in a statement earlier this year that his agency is working with court and city officials to identify the best site and should complete its environmental assessment of the three properties and select a preferred site within the next year.

"We look forward to delivering a successful project for the court, the American people and the city of Chattanooga," Kerns said in a statement.


— An open house and public meeting will be held about the best location for the new federal courthouse in Chattanooga from 5:30-7:30 p.m. June 14 at the Mac Avenue Event Space, 1304 McCallie Ave. During this meeting, the public will have an opportunity to hear about the project and learn how they can provide input on the sites under consideration. A brief presentation on the project is scheduled at 6 p.m. and both verbal and written comments will be taken by GSA at the meeting.

— Public comments also may be submitted about the courthouse sites by July 1 via email to ashish.desai@gsa.gov (reference "Chattanooga Courthouse EA" in the subject line) or by regular mail to General Services Administration, Attention: Mr. Ashish Desai, GSA Region 4 Facilities Management Division, Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Building, 77 Forsyth Street SW, Atlanta, GA 30303

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.