Empire Editorial: Goodbye, tower of babble

  • Sunday, March 27, 2016 1:03am
  • Opinion

“And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. … So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.” — Genesis 11:1,8

On Thursday, Alaska Superior Court judge Patrick McKay threw out the Alaska Legislature’s 10-year lease of a downtown Anchorage office building. In 2015, Anchorage lawmakers moved into the building after the state paid for millions in renovations.

A lawsuit soon followed, alleging the Legislature’s deal with landlords Mark Pfeffer and Bob Acree violated the state’s purchasing regulations.

In this case, as in the Biblical story, the actions of a higher power have put an end to a troubling tower. We are thankful.

This newspaper has long opposed the Legislature’s deal for the Fourth Avenue building. We have maintained, and continue to maintain, that it made little sense for the Alaska Legislature to sign a deal that required it to pay five times as much for 2.5 times more space — and that after the Legislature paid $7.5 million toward the building’s renovation.

It makes more sense, we believe, for Anchorage legislators to keep their offices in the state-owned Atwood Building, which has ample space (after an expected $2.5 million renovation) to host them.

Furthermore, we believe — as many of you do — that some Anchorage lawmakers viewed this new tower as a shadow capitol, a place built with facilities ample enough to house the operations of the entire Alaska Legislature, not just those of Anchorage’s representatives.

We have had ample opportunity to fear a move of the Alaska Capitol from its rightful place, and our supposition seemed justified last year after the Legislature held a special session in the tower instead of in Juneau.

Thanks to your opposition to this Anchorage eyesore, most lawmakers have come to their senses.

When Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, was asked for comment by the Alaska Dispatch News on Thursday, she replied, “We’re pretty happy,” she said. “Let’s move!”

The lawsuit would seem to leave the door open for Anchorage lawmakers to move their offices to the Atwood Building, an eight-minute walk away.

Of course, a clean break may not be easy. Before the Legislature signed its lease with Pfeffer, he had it certify, in writing, that the leasing process was legal. According to an analysis posted by Casey Reynolds, who publishes the Alaska political blog Midnight Sun, that certification means Pfeffer could sue the state for the full $42 million cost of the renovations (minus the cost the Legislature paid already).

That would surely put the sour cherry atop an irritating sundae.

The Alaska Legislature’s Legislative Council (a joint House-Senate body in charge of Legislative business) will meet Monday to decide the body’s next steps.

For Alaska’s sake, we hope they will end the babble and choose the cheaper and more sensible option in the Atwood Building.

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