Lawmakers approve cheaper Anchorage LIO

The Alaska Legislature is proceeding with plans to purchase an Anchorage office building.

On Monday evening, the joint House-Senate Legislative Council voted 13-1 to give Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, authority to offer up to $12.5 million for a 47,000-square-foot Wells Fargo-owned office building on Benson Boulevard in the Spenard district of Anchorage.

Speaking Tuesday morning, Stevens said legislators won’t occupy the entire four-story building. State employees currently leasing more expensive space elsewhere in Anchorage may use the building as well, and Wells Fargo may itself rent space in the building once the Legislature has purchased it.

Stevens also said the Legislature’s Eagle River offices could be vacated, with staff there moving into the new building as well.

Rep. Sam Kito cast the sole vote against the purchase; all the “yes” votes came from members of the Senate and House majorities.

Monday’s vote isn’t the last word on the purchase. While Stevens may negotiate and sign a contract to buy the building, funding for the purchase is contingent upon the passage of a budget bill that contains money for it.

The state capital budget has $12.5 million for the building and has passed the Senate. It was being debated in the House Finance Committee on Tuesday and could face a House vote as early as Wednesday.

The purchase of the Wells Fargo building is being driven by lawmakers’ interest in new Anchorage offices and the unavailability of its current building in downtown Anchorage.

Lawmakers had sought to purchase that building for $32.5 million, but Gov. Bill Walker vowed to veto the purchase.

Lawmakers also can’t continue to lease that downtown building because a state superior court judge has thrown out their existing lease for violations of the state’s contracting rules. The Legislature is now facing the possibility of at least two lawsuits over the failed lease: one from the owners of the building, and another from the bank that financed renovations to the building.

As for the Wells Fargo building, Walker chief of staff Jim Whitaker told Stevens that the governor will not veto money for the cheaper building.

In other business Wednesday, the Legislative Council agreed 14-0 to continue its lease of the Bill Ray Center in Juneau for $25,000 per month.

Today is the 121st day of the regular legislative session and its ostensible constitutional limit, but almost no one in the Capitol expects work to be finished by today. A 10-day extension of the regular session is possible, as is a governor-called special session.

Under the terms of its lease with First National Bank Alaska — which owns the Bill Ray Center — lawmakers will pay $25,000 per month for as long as they need the building.

It will be available until August.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com.

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