In Juneau, city leaders are still wary of simmering sentiments to move the state capital. One strategy that some organizations are using to assuage these calls and keep the legislative process running smoothly is to turn downtown properties over to the Legislative Assembly.
Since the establishment of the state, the footprint of the legislature in downtown Juneau has grown from a single building to a five-block complex. Most additions were donations. The latest giveaway is a three-story building at the Capitol.
The property is known as the Assembly Building. It has approximately 24,000 square feet of space plus underground parking. The Juneau Community Foundation purchased it in August with its Juneau Capitol Fund. The local appraiser’s office values it at nearly $1.5 million.
Lawmakers think they can move some support offices there that are currently paying rent for space elsewhere. There is also potential for apartments that would make it easier for legislators and staff to find temporary accommodation.
But before working out the details, a legislative committee had to vote to accept the gift. And during the discussion leading up to this vote, of course, this came up: some people don’t want the seat of state government in Juneau at all.
“I don’t think we need an empire in Juneau,” said Sen. Lora Reinbold, a Republican from Eagle River. “I think the road network is where the people are. And that the Legislature needs to have access to people – I’m a big proponent of getting the Legislature out of Juneau and bringing it to the highway system.
She had other concerns: unknowns about the condition of the old building, unknown renovation costs, and her personal challenge to get to and from Juneau after the Alaska Airlines ban.
For Senate President Peter Micciche, a Soldotna Republican, the potential savings outweighed the unknowns.
“It’s a gift,” Micciche said. “We don’t accept to spend a penny. And without spending a penny, we could have a substantial reduction in what we spend on other spaces right now.
The Capital Complex is in Rep. Sara Hannan’s district. The Juneau Democrat said adding the building would not sway supporters of the capital’s move. But, she said, the potential apartments would make life easier for out-of-town lawmakers in Juneau and allay some of the blame. There too, there can be savings.
“Now when you translate it into specific dollars, it’s not a straight equation, apples to apples, because lawmakers are currently getting per diems to come here and find housing,” Hannan said.
Housing is particularly difficult to find in Juneau when the Legislative Assembly meets outside of its regular sessions.
The Legislative Council voted 10 to 4 to accept ownership.
Since then, Rep. Hannan has been leading a subcommittee working on the details of what to do with the building. There are still paying tenants with leases that expire next November. Hannan said major changes or office moves are unlikely before then.
KTOO received funding from the Juneau Capitol Fund to support Gavel Alaska.