Lawmakers vote to pursue new building for Anchorage legislators

After a veto threat from Gov. Bill Walker, lawmakers have changed their plans for a new office building in Anchorage.

On Monday evening, members of the joint House-Senate Legislative Council voted 12-1 to offer $12.5 million for a 47,000-square-foot, four-story office complex owned by Wells Fargo Bank.

The move comes weeks after Walker announced he would veto any move by the Legislature to buy its existing Anchorage office building for $32.5 million.

That existing building, at 716 Fourth Avenue, sparked a lawsuit and endless recrimination over a process that saw lawmakers pay to remodel the building, then pay higher rent.

In contentious debates over the downtown Anchorage Legislative Information Office, detractors nicknamed the glass-walled tower the “Taj Mahawker” after Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage and the former chairman of the Legislative Council.

The Council makes decisions for the Legislature when the body isn’t in regular session, and Hawker was chairman when it made a deal to renovate the building.

As the state grapples with a $4 billion annual budget deficit, lawmakers were criticized for plans to spend $32.5 million to buy the building. After Gov. Walker vowed to veto the funding, lawmakers backed down.

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak and the current chairman of the Legislative Council, confirmed to KTVA-TV’s Liz Raines that the Fourth Avenue building is no longer being considered for purchase.

The Wells Fargo building is larger by some 4,000 square feet than the Fourth Avenue building, but it comes at a lower cost because of its location. At the corner of Minnesota Drive and Benson Boulevard, it isn’t in downtown Anchorage.

The Alaska Dispatch News first reported on the availability of the Wells Fargo building last week, and quoted Marc Dunne, the real estate broker selling the building.

Dunne told the ADN the building is worth about $12 million.

The Council’s Monday evening vote gives legislative staff 60 days to complete a contract with Wells Fargo to buy the building. Staff will return to the council with a completed contract, and lawmakers will vote whether to accept it.

Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, was the sole member of the Legislative Council to speak out against plans to buy the Wells Fargo building.

He urged his fellow lawmakers to consider moving into the state-owned Atwood Building in downtown Anchorage.

“There is space available, and it is owned by the state already,” he said.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Anchorage, responded that the Atwood Building would have to be renovated to accommodate lawmakers, and any savings accrued from moving into the Atwood Building would be offset by the need to renovate it and pay for interim space while the renovations take place.

“Just to move into the Atwood Building is about one-quarter the cost of this (Wells Fargo) building,” said Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole and the Senate Majority Leader.

Kito subsequently told the Empire that he hasn’t seen any information about what renovations would be needed to the Wells Fargo building before the Legislature occupies it.

He added that he remains worried about the possibility of a lawsuit over the Fourth Avenue building, whose owners may feel they were misled by the Legislature.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, and Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, each said they hadn’t yet analyzed the details of the proposed Wells Fargo purchase.

“I thought Atwood was a good idea,” Egan said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Walker said he did not have a comment on the proposed purchase at this time.

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