The Assembly Building is seen on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022, in downtown Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

The Assembly Building is seen on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022, in downtown Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Alaska Legislature’s new apartment building is on budget, on schedule

A project intended to renovate a historic Juneau building into apartments for state legislators and staff is running on time and on budget, officials told a legislative committee on Monday.

“It’ll be move-in ready by January 10 at the latest, and then they’ll just have some punch-list items after that. It’s on schedule to be move-in ready five days before session begins,” said Jessica Geary, director of the nonpartisan Legislative Affairs Agency, which manages the Capitol complex in Juneau.

The Assembly Building, built in 1932 and located across the street from the Capitol complex, was donated to the Legislature by the Juneau Community Foundation last year.

The joint House-Senate Legislative Council has agreed to spend almost $9 million turning the building into 33 apartments.

What’s still not clear is who will get those apartments. Lawmakers have yet to set a policy determining that, and they haven’t determined whether the apartments will be available to the public when the Legislature is not in session.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, is chairing a subcommittee that will decide those answers, and he said he’s likely to recommend against making the building available to the public.

Though Juneau is experiencing a severe housing shortage, Kiehl said that “one of the greatest values of this building to the Legislature will be special session housing.”

During prior summer special sessions, lawmakers and staff had to compete with Juneau’s seasonal tourist economy for hotel rooms, and space was difficult to find.

The Assembly Building was purchased by the Juneau Community Foundation’s Juneau Capitol Fund, which is intended to support the Capitol as long as it remains in Juneau, and funders have an interest in seeing special sessions take place in Juneau.

Kiehl said that keeping the building unavailable to the public “would limit the degree of competition with the private sector” as well.

Other legislators have expressed different opinions. During Monday’s meeting, some lawmakers expressed concerns about the Legislature’s ability to earn a return on investment with the property.

“I’m just not so sure that this is an appropriate use of people’s money,” said Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, during Monday’s meeting.

McCabe was among five legislators, all Republican members of the House majority caucus from Southcentral Alaska, who attempted to vote down a contract for furnishing the building.

The vote passed 8-5, allowing LAA to purchase furniture. A separate vote, authorizing $74,750 for window shades and blinds, passed by a 12-1 margin. The lone no vote was Speaker of the House Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, voted in favor of both items despite opposing the Assembly Building idea last year.

“It’s a tough issue in some respects. Those that were on the council before know that I was not a big fan of the building to begin with,” he said, “but I feel like we’ve got sort of both feet in the water now.”

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at alaskabeacon.com. Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

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