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Anchorage building purchase raises cost concerns

Posted: November 14, 2011 - 12:02am

The Alaska Legislature is seeking to purchase its own building for its Anchorage offices, the former Unocal building in that city.

That’s the kind of thing that often raises Capitol move fears in Juneau, but state Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, said he reluctantly voted to authorize the purchase.

The reluctance, he said, came not from fears for Juneau, but over the $16 million purchase and renovation cost.

“I’m convinced we need more space there, and parking, and if we get the Unocal building that’s a good way to do it,” he said.

“I am convinced the current facility is inadequate,” Egan said.

The Legislature won’t find out for weeks whether it has been successful in purchasing the building, as another bidder, an Alaska Native corporation, has also submitted an offer.

The decision to seek to buy the Unocal building was made by the Legislative Council, the Legislature’s operating arm, which met in Anchorage recently. It voted 10-2 for the purchase.

Egan said he has assurances from Legislative Council Chair Sen. Linda Menard, R-Wasilla, that the building is just to serve Southcentral legislators better and is not part of a strategy to move the Capitol.

The Legislative Council members voting against the purchase were Reps. Craig, Johnson, R-Anchorage, and Bill Thomas, R-Haines.

Now, four Mat-Su legislators have come out publicly against buying the Unocal or any other building.

Area Reps. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, Mark Neuman R-Big Lake, Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, and Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, signed the four-paragraph letter to Menard.

“We do not believe the proposed purchase is a sound business decision, nor do we believe it is prudent for the Legislature to be engaged in a discussion to purchase this or any other building,” they stated in a letter sent to Menard last week.

Egan said the Legislature’s Anchorage offices are currently in leased space, but it would prefer to be in quarters it owns.

“The state is paying a lot of money yearly for a lease,” he said, which ownership would get away from.

There was concern expressed in Anchorage, he said, about taking a large property off the tax rolls.

The Legislature’s expansions in Juneau didn’t raise such concerns. The recent addition of the Thomas Stewart building, and before that the Terry Miller Building, were both facilitated by the city with the donation of the buildings to the Legislature.

The Unocal building in Anchorage had a utility column running down the middle, making it difficult to use as a legislative hall, he said.

Egan said he’d go along with the purchase of the Unocal building, but wasn’t an advocate of it.

“We have to face it that the bulk of the Legislature is there,” he said, but “I’m ambivalent about the Unocal building.”

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

• Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, not Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, voted against the purchase of the former Unocal building.

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