Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What's up with the federal courthouse?

The majestic federal courthouse on West Trade Street, while stilled used by the federal courts, is owned by the City of Charlotte now. Monday night the City Council unanimously OK'd a change to the city's agreement with Queens University of Charlotte, which has an option to purchase the building.

The previous agreement was for Queens to use the building as a future law school.  Now that the for-profit Charlotte School of Law has opened, Queens requested a change in the agreement to give the school more leeway in what it could use the building for.

The Charles R. Jonas Federal building, built in 1917 and expanded in 1934, is not a local historic landmark although by most definitions of the term it should be, given its role in such historic federal cases as Judge James McMillan's Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 1971. And the building also holds the only remaining courtroom that looks and feels like a courtroom.  Whatever happens, let us hope Queens honors its history and ambiance.

The U.S. General Services Administration plans eventually (I am not holding my breath) to build a new courthouse at 500 E. Trade Street, over in the part of uptown that has been steadily deadened with courthouses, the Federal Reserve building, the government center and the jail. Not much room over there for many uses that will help create lively sidewalks along East Trade or Fourth or Third Streets, other than Occupy Charlotte at Old City Hall (which if you take the long view is temporary) and the occasionally excellent people-watching in front of the new Mecklenburg County Courthouse way down at McDowell and Fourth streets.


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