Congressional Public Forum on the new U.S. Courthouse for Harrisburg

FEBRUARY 11, 2008


Thank you, Senator Specter, Senator Casey and Congressman Holden for the invitation to appear before you today at this Congressional Public Forum on the new U.S. Courthouse for Harrisburg.  I apologize I am not able to attend this important forum in person.

I am David Winstead, and I have the privilege of serving as Commissioner, Public Buildings Service (PBS) of the United States General Services Administration (GSA).  For the information of the members of the public joining us today, the dedicated and talented men and women who are GSA provide centralized procurement and property management agency services for the Federal Government.  GSA manages more than one-fourth of the Government’s total procurement dollars and influences the management of $500 billion in Federal assets.  PBS within GSA is the largest public real estate organization in the country with an inventory of over 342 million square feet of workspace housing 1.1 million Federal employees in 2,100 American communities.

Our mission is to provide superior workplaces in support of the critical missions of our Federal customer agencies, while providing the most economical solutions for the American taxpayer.

I’d like to share with you today the design principles and guidelines we follow in selecting sites for Federal buildings across the country.  Federal buildings, and particularly courthouses, are highly symbolic civic structures.  They benefit from proximity to other civic institutions, often sharing common clientele, infrastructure, transportation access, and amenities.  Downtown areas of cities are important, in large part, because civic facilities are typically located centrally in downtown areas.  Each GSA office building, laboratory, and courthouse is a symbol of America's democracy, and a significant public investment that must contribute to the vitality of its local community. The location of a Federal facility is critical.  Not only do these buildings facilitate important Federal missions, but they also demonstrate how the Federal Government can contribute to the quality of life in local communities. These contributions include:

  • the creation of public spaces and plazas;
  • the preservation of historic buildings and national landmarks;
  • the commitment to improve environmental quality and energy conservation efforts; and
  • the potential to spark economic revitalization of our urban centers and business districts.

We consider all of these factors and opportunities in selecting sites for courthouses.  The site selection is a decision that recognizes balance, and in some cases trade-offs, among many component goals and concerns.  Chief among these goals is facilitation of the work accomplished within the facility--access to, and adjudication of, justice. Of course, costs associated with real estate acquisition, design and construction, long term facility operation, and security are also paramount considerations, as is the potential to contribute to the civic and economic well-being of the communities served by the buildings we create. 

We believe we can successfully achieve this balance in Harrisburg, as we have in countless cities and towns across the country.

Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Barbara Shelton is present with you to discuss the site selection in Harrisburg more specifically.


Senator Specter, Senator Casey, Congressman Holden, I thank you for the invitation to appear before you today at this Congressional Public Forum on the new U.S. Courthouse for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 

I am Barbara Shelton and I serve as GSA's Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator.  GSA’s Mid-Atlantic Region is nationally recognized as a leader in integrated, team-based project delivery.  We establish teams of dedicated people that include not only the GSA technical disciplines necessary for successful project delivery, but also pull in contracted technical resources, client representatives, and community representatives.  Over and over again the talented and dedicated men and women who work for our region have successfully completed projects on time and on budget, delivering a professional project while maintaining a good relationship with the community and city.  We care about the communities we work with, not only professionally, but personally, as well.  In my own case, I am proud to call myself a native of Harrisburg; with many family members and friends in the community.  I am a graduate of the local public school system, and someone who has lived and worked for many years in this community. 

Joining me today are several members of the GSA Team working on the new U.S. Courthouse in Harrisburg:  Abigail Low, Project Manager for the U.S. Courthouse project; Rob Hewell, Public Buildings Service Assistant Regional Administrator; Laura Stagner, Project Executive; and Tom Moriarty of Economic Research Associates (ERA), a GSA contractor who performed the economic research we will discuss today.  Abby will join me in making a statement today; Laura, Rob and Tom are here as additional resources on technical matters.  In addition, we have had 18 meetings and discussions on this project in Harrisburg since October 1, and we look forward to, and are all willing, to stay after this Forum to answer questions that members of the public may have about this project.  

It is with pride that I note there are many successful examples of new courthouses delivered via GSA’s Team process in communities across this Region including in Erie, Pennsylvania; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Camden, New Jersey; Trenton, New Jersey; Charleston, West Virginia; Wheeling, West Virginia; Beckley, West Virginia; and most recently, in Richmond, Virginia.

In each of these communities, GSA seeks to be an integral member and good neighbor. Through community partnerships, openness to the public, and location/design decisions, GSA provides multiple returns for communities and actively supports urban development. The specific community-based principles that drive GSA business decisions include:

Customer and Community Partnerships

  • Establishing partnerships with local customers and community organizations to address mutual neighborhood concerns;
  • Contracting with business improvement districts and downtown companies;
  • Collaborating with civic advocate organizations at the national level;
  • Contributing to the improvement of areas around GSA facilities; and
  • Serving as a clearinghouse for good practices.

Openness to the Public

  • Incorporating retail and other high-traffic uses into GSA facilities, where feasible;
  • Promoting the use of GSA public spaces to host events, markets, meetings, and displays; and
  • Meeting security needs in ways that remain welcoming to the public.

GSA’s community efforts are not confined to building projects, however.  To provide an enhanced educational experience to our children while at the same time responsibly managing stocks of no-longer-needed Government computer equipment, GSA conducts the Computers for Learning (CFL) program.  The CFL program allows Government agencies to transfer excess computer equipment to schools and educational nonprofit organizations, giving special consideration to those with the greatest need. Transferring computers to schools gives students the resources to succeed - and helps to build a successful future for America. 

The GSA Mid-Atlantic Region also provides support for our uniformed men and women, supplying products, services, procurement expertise, vehicles, travel and transportation, and personal property management.  The GSA Express Stores program provides walk-in access to a wide array of products. GSA partners with our customers in the European and Middle Eastern theaters to provide this service for the convenience of our troops and workers abroad.

In addition, GSA has provided Federal agencies with quality vehicles since 1954. We proudly support over 75 Federal agencies with cost savings that are second to none. GSA's fleet includes automobiles, passenger vans, trucks, buses and ambulances, including a wide variety of Alternative Fuel Vehicles.

Turning back to the new U.S Courthouse in Harrisburg, GSA began its work on selecting an appropriate site in 2004.  As part of that process, GSA has:

  • Evaluated more than 38 sites in the Harrisburg area, including sites suggested or recommended by community members, local elected and appointed officials, and private investors; 
  • Conducted public input sessions aimed at providing factual information to the public and soliciting input and response from them, as we do with all our siting initiatives;
  • Considered a multitude of factors, including each site’s ability to accommodate the facility, the site’s identity within the community, appropriate land use and community character, and cost and price factors, among others. 

The first site selected for the new U.S. Courthouse was on property that includes the Cumberland Court apartments and the Harrisburg Friends Meetinghouse.  Our decision regarding NOT moving ahead with this location is a great example of how GSA works with the community.  The local community presented hard data about the lack of comparable housing available in Harrisburg to relocate the residents of Cumberland Court.  Following this input we verified the accuracy of the data, and we changed course. 

We re-opened our site selection process, reevaluated and updated our criteria, and expanded our search to include sites in Downtown Harrisburg.  There are strong and compelling reasons to locate a courthouse in Harrisburg’s civic and business core.  In June of 2007, GSA announced two sites that we believed were viable candidate sites for the new U.S. Courthouse in Harrisburg: 3rd and Pine Streets and 2nd and Locust Streets. 

Unfortunately, these two candidate sites generated significant objections from the community.  We listened.  We sat down with the City of Harrisburg to attempt to identify a site that would reduce or eliminate property and business tax impacts, and provide services and amenities necessary for Court operations.   

The City made clear its preference for the site at 6th and Reily in Harrisburg’s mid-town section.  However, our review of that site found it to be lacking in the necessary amenities, services, and public infrastructure – such as parking facilities – required for a successful new U.S. Courthouse site.  To address the City of Harrisburg’s concerns over the potential loss of business and property tax base, GSA decided, with new technology developments in hand, to review the reuse of the site of the current Ronald Reagan Federal Building at 3rd and Walnut Streets in downtown Harrisburg for the new U.S. Courthouse in Harrisburg.  We have determined that with new technologies our existing site is capable of accommodating a new courthouse, meeting all our operational and security requirements while continuing to provide all necessary amenities for jurors, visitors, employees, and the legal community.  Moreover, reuse of our existing site will inject $157 million into the local economy, require NO residential relocations, NO relocations of existing businesses, NO loss of property taxes to the City, and NO loss of business taxes to the City.

At this time, I would like to turn the presentation over to Abby Low, Project Manager for the U.S. Courthouse in Harrisburg to provide you with more specific information on the project and the analysis we have conducted on the 6th and Reily and the 3rd and Walnut sites.


Thank you, Barbara.  Senator Specter, Senator Casey, and Congressman Holden, I join my colleagues in thanking you for the invitation to participate in today’s Forum.  As Regional Administrator Shelton mentioned, I would like to provide you with an overview of the analysis we conducted on the 6th and Reily and 3rd and Walnut sites. 

After unveiling the downtown sites the Regional Administrator mentioned in June of 2007, we once again asked the community for feedback. As the Regional Administrator also mentioned, we heard from local business owners, residents, and Mayor Reed about the concerns related to relocation of businesses, losing taxable land and disrupting the synergy of Restaurant Row.

Once again, we listened and we changed course.  We conducted a preliminary review which indicated the site where the Ronald Reagan Federal Building is located is viable.  On October 3, GSA announced that it would suspend the evaluation of the two downtown sites to begin evaluating our existing Ronald Reagan Federal Building as the site for the new courthouse while briefing US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar and members of the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation.  Chairman Oberstar and the Delegation requested -- and GSA agreed – we would conduct a review of both the 3rd and Walnut and 6th and Reily sites.  This review was to be conducted within a 90-day period and a report of the review be provided to Congressman Oberstar‘s Committee and the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation. 

Since that time, we have been hard at work to complete that analysis, which includes:

  • a new economic-impact report by a respected, independent third party,
  • a further investigation into potential cost savings to the city and taxpayers,
  • a closer look at security needs, and
  • a fresh perspectives from Harrisburg residents and key stakeholders.

In the last 90 days alone, we have held face-to-face meetings with dozens of people in Harrisburg, including those who support a downtown site and those who support a midtown location.

GSA conducted a series of brand new studies for both the 3rd and Walnut and the 6th and Reily sites.  The studies conducted include a market assessment and an economic analysis.  More specifically, the studies included:

  • Design studies (massing, stacking), structural study (re-use of foundation and basements), blast engineering, and demolition logistics
  • Cost of parking garages
  • Interim Space for the Courts (Market study, interim program, etc)
  • Court Street appraisal
  • 7th Street widening
  • Relocation of existing tenants
  • Review and update of recent studies
  • Restricted Appraisal for Ronald Reagan Federal Building
  • Updated Demolition Estimate for Ronald Reagan Federal Building
  • Determination of eligibility for the Ronald Reagan Federal Building
  • Requirements for non-court agencies and,
  • Long term strategy for the Ronald Reagan Federal Building.

In addition to the empirical work mentioned above, the GSA Team wanted to make sure it had continuing input from the community.  Over the 90-day period, GSA held 14 meetings with a wide range of organizations and 4 meetings with City of Harrisburg staff including a presentation from their midtown development partners.  Included in the outreach program were community groups, business service organizations, non-profit organizations, local agencies, and others. 

What did we learn through our review?  First, we confirmed that regardless of the location selected, building a new U.S. Courthouse in Harrisburg will bring a $130 million investment into the Harrisburg community.  In addition, construction of the new U.S. Courthouse will add a further $70 million of additional derivative investment to the Harrisburg area.

We also confirmed that regardless of the location selected the new U.S. Courthouse’s design will meet the Court’s expansion needs.  The new design will improve operational efficiency, and provide secure circulation within the building.  More specifically, the new U.S. Courthouse will have eight courtrooms and ten Judges’ chambers, totaling 266,954 gross square feet (GSF) of occupied building and 19,350 GSF of parking for 43 spaces.

We confirmed the new U.S. Courthouse will be secure.  The new design will assure three separate circulation paths inside the buildings to separate and protect judges, defendants, juries, witnesses and the public.  The design will also satisfy the Interagency Security Committee standards for blast protection. 

GSA contracted with ERA Associates to perform market and economic evaluations.  ERA’s findings are significant.  In particular, they find that a single 266,954 GSF courthouse is not a retail market generator in and of itself.  This is important because it means it will not act as an ‘anchor’ to new development.  Indeed, the ERA analysis shows that even if 100 percent of the potential new U.S. Courthouse consumer market were to make all their purchases within the area immediately surrounding the site, only 4100 square feet – or one

moderately-sized restaurant -- would be supported.  The 3rd and Walnut site, located in the heart of Harrisburg’s downtown section, would continue to provide quick access to the many service businesses and amenities already in place.

The GSA Team conclusion following our 90-day review is: the 3rd and Walnut site best serves the Federal Government and the community, maximizes return on Federal investment in Harrisburg, and minimizes required local investment.

There are a variety of real benefits to the City of Harrisburg in locating the new U.S. Courthouse at the 3rd and Walnut site.  In addition to the $130 million construction investment, there will be $27 million invested in the City of Harrisburg to provide interim office space for the Courts and non-courts agencies.  Non-courts agencies will be moved to private leased space in the City of Harrisburg and will contribute to the local tax base.  No additional community infrastructure, planning or policy is required with the re-use of the 3rd and Walnut site.  There is no impact to local tax revenue.

Conversely, there are a number of problematic issues associated with the 6th and Reily site.  Required community investment includes a 500-1000 car parking garage costing between $13 million and $26 million, commercial area support of $700,000/year for 7-10 years, and street and bridge improvements costing an estimated $2 million.  In addition, removal of the property at 6th and Reily from the Harrisburg tax base will result in the loss of $36,000 in tax revenue per year.

As a final point, let me share some insight provided by members of the community we interacted with over the past 90 days.  The GSA Team conducted community briefings, including one combined briefing with the Right Site Coalition and members of several unions.  Individual briefings with business service organizations were also conducted.  In addition, we commissioned a survey of central business district owner-operators to elicit their views. 

Nearly 500 central business district businesses were contacted as part of the survey.  Our survey research provider, Campos, Inc., spoke to 10% of the owner-operators in the Harrisburg central business district.  Nine out of ten of those respondents were aware that the new U.S. Courthouse site selection process is ongoing.  Nearly half of all respondents rated the general effect of the U.S. Courthouse location in the central business district as positive on the downtown area.  In summary, while Harrisburg area business owners are split in their views on the best location for the new U.S. Courthouse in Harrisburg, nearly half prefer a downtown location. 

Let me quote one Harrisburg resident who wrote to us to share his views on the best location for the new U.S. Courthouse in Harrisburg:

“Now is not the time to dismantle center city Harrisburg’s critical mass; now is not the time to take away one of the prime reasons to locate downtown. Doing so would only make it more likely that the vacant lots will remain vacant and that the under-utilized buildings will stay under-utilized.” – Charles Beckley, III, Esquire

At this point, I will turn the presentation back to the Regional Administrator.


Thank you, Abby.

Senator Specter, Senator Casey and Congressman Holden, the analysis we have conducted over the past 90 days, along with the information we have collected and reviewed and shared with the public since 2005, demonstrate that the 3rd and Walnut site is the best location for the U.S. Courthouse in Harrisburg.  Let me reiterate something I previously stated in public on this matter: The men and women of GSA are doing what has been asked of us – and doing it in good faith. GSA has a solid track record of working with local communities to find a solution that works best for all parties.  We have done it in many other communities, and we remain confident we can do the same in Harrisburg.

On behalf of the members of the GSA Team with us today and all of the dedicated men and women working on this project, I thank you again for the opportunity to present to you today.  We are prepared to answer any questions you may have.  I look forward to continuing our collaboration to site, construct and open a new U.S. Courthouse that every single member of the Harrisburg community can be proud of.

Last Reviewed 2010-04-30