Alaska Legislature turns down free building

Alaska Legislature turns down free building

There’s a saying that you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Evidently, that doesn’t apply to free buildings.

On Tuesday morning, the Legislative Council voted 4-7 against accepting a free building from the Juneau Community Foundation. The council is the meta branch of the Alaska Legislature, dealing with things like legislative offices and the Capitol.

Earlier this year, the Juneau Community Foundation’s Juneau Capitol Fund purchased 524 Main St., a house across Main Street from the Capitol.

The Capitol Fund was established in 2014 with part of a $40 million gift from Bill and Katie Corbus to the foundation, and the fund is dedicated to projects that “assist and support the City and Borough of Juneau and others to enhance and improve the State Capitol complex in Juneau,” according to the fund’s incorporation documents.

In May, when the house was purchased, Community Foundation director Amy Skilbred told Alaska Dispatch News reporter Devin Kelly that “we’ll be exploring potential uses for it in the future.”

On Tuesday morning, foundation board member Reed Stoops told the Legislative Council that “the purpose of the acquisition was to be made available to the state. … We’re willing to donate it to whichever branch of state government is interested in using it.”

“I think it’s pretty easy to have it work as offices again,” said Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau and a member of the Legislative Council.

Others pointed out that if the Legislature were to rent the building to others, it might even make money.

Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, voted against the acquisition. “I consider this more expansion of government, so I cannot support it at this time,” he said, appearing to neatly summarize the arguments of others.

Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, said there might be hidden costs involved. He referred to a building the Legislature bought for a dollar, but which had a leaking below ground fuel tank.

“The last building we bought for a dollar became very expensive,” he said.

Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said he doesn’t know that the Legislature needs the building right now.

“I’m probably going to say not right now,” he said. “I’m not going to say no; I’m going to say not right now.”

Stoops said the building has also been offered to the Alaska Department of Administration, which is believed to be considering the offer of free offices.

Later this week or early next week, Legislative Council president Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, is expected to sign off on the purchase of an Anchorage office building for $12.5 million. That building, now owned by Wells Fargo, will be used to house the offices of Anchorage lawmakers.

Those lawmakers are currently using a different building in downtown Anchorage. That building’s owner has filed a $37 million claim with the state, alleging the Legislature is at fault for the failure of a 10-year lease. The lease was voided by an Anchorage judge earlier this year for violations of the state’s contracting rules.

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