In Juneau, civic leaders are always wary of simmering sentiments to move the state capital. One strategy some organizations use to quiet those calls and to keep the legislative process running smoothly is to give downtown property away to the Legislature.
Since statehood, the legislative branch’s footprint in downtown Juneau has gone from a single building to a five-block complex. Most of the additions were donations. The latest gift is a three-story building kitty-corner to the Capitol.
The property is known as the Assembly Building. It has about 24,000 square feet of space plus underground parking. The Juneau Community Foundation bought it in August with its Juneau Capitol Fund. The local assessor’s office values it at nearly $1.5 million.
Lawmakers think they can move some support offices there that are currently paying rent for space elsewhere. There’s also potential for apartments that would make finding temporary housing for legislators and staff easier.
But before working on the particulars, a legislative committee had to vote to accept the gift. And during the discussion leading into that vote, of course it came up: some people don’t want the seat of state government to be in Juneau at all.
“I don’t think we need an empire in Juneau,” said Sen. Lora Reinbold, a Republican from Eagle River. “I think that the road system is where the people are. And that the Legislature needs to have access to the people — I’m a big proponent of getting the Legislature out of Juneau and on to the road system.”
She had other concerns: Unknowns about the old building’s condition, unknown renovation costs, and her personal challenge of getting to and from Juneau after Alaska Airlines banned her.
For Senate President Peter Micciche, a Soldotna Republican, the potential savings outweighed the unknowns.
“This is a gift,” Micciche said. “We’re not agreeing to spend a penny. And without spending a penny, we could have substantial reduction in what we’re spending for other space right now.”
The capital complex is in Rep. Sara Hannan’s district. The Juneau Democrat said that adding the building won’t sway capital move supporters. But, she said, the potential apartments would make out-of-town legislators’ lives in Juneau easier, and quiet some of the gripes. There may be savings, there, too.
“Now, when you translate it to specific dollars, it’s not a direct equation, apples to apples, because legislators currently get per diem to come here and find a place to stay,” Hannan said.
Housing is particularly hard to find in Juneau when the Legislature meets outside of its regular sessions.
The Legislative Council voted 10-4 to accept the property.
Since then, Rep. Hannan has been leading a subcommittee working on the specifics of what to do with the building. It still has some rent-paying tenants with leases that expire next November. Hannan said significant changes or office moves are unlikely before that.
KTOO has received funds from the Juneau Capitol Fund to support Gavel Alaska.