Alaska editorial: Poor timing for capitol construction

Posted: Tuesday, March 01, 2005

This editorial appeared in the Feb. 22 Voice of the (Anchorage) Times:

The thinking behind those pushing for construction of a new state capitol building is a mystery.

We've talked to them about it, but still don't understand why they are lobbying for a new building right now. After all, erecting a new capitol there would anchor Juneau as the capital of Alaska virtually forever.

That certainly is one of their motives, but reaching that decision would invite another statewide move-the-capital battle that is just not at the top of anyone's list of needs or wants.

The backers are moving right ahead with their plan just as if Alaska voters had already agreed to it. They invited more than 40 architectural firms to submit designs and have already narrowed the submissions down to four finalists; all are from Outside - California, Massachusetts and Seattle - and each is working with one or more Alaska firms.

There may be more sympathy in the Legislature for the project than most legislators have confessed to, but the unofficial response of most has been: "Are you kidding?"

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, says his constituents are "totally dead-set against" any new capitol building right now. Except for those from Juneau, the number of legislators whose constituents are saying "let's do it" are right up there with the number who want to refit the old building with a retractible dome.

It isn't that a new capitol isn't needed; the old one is obsolete and inadequate. Most legislators would much prefer to work in a larger and more attractive facility. And several of the design proposals could work though they look odd for an Alaska environment. The building would cost about $100 million and be paid for with bonds based on anticipated space rental. Supposedly it would be constructed without cost to the state.

But making the project financially viable would require that the state sign a long-term lease for the space. Doing that would virtually eliminate the possibility of selecting another city to serve as the capital, at least for the term of the lease and probably for many years thereafter.

A jury of Alaskans and design professionals from other states will pick the winning design on March 1.

It's possible that when they see the proposed designs the voters will fall in love with one or more and with the idea of a new capitol, and demand that the building be constructed immediately.

The odds are probably right up there with the chance that Donald Trump will pick Howard Dean as his next apprentice.

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