The Alaska Legislature’s Capitol complex in Juneau has grown to a fifth city block

A street-level view of a road with some square five-story buildings and woman standing in a doorway on her phone
The Alaska Legislature now owns three of the four buildings at the corner of Seward and Fourth streets in downtown Juneau, pictured here on Dec. 17, 2021. The Juneau Community Foundation donated the Assembly Building, foreground left, to the Legislature in August. The Legislature also owns the previously donated Stewart Building on the right, and Capitol building itself down the street on the right. (Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

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

Assembly Building
The Assembly Building, pictured here from an office in the Alaska Capitol, is three stories and has underground parking. (Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

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.

Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.

Previous articleProfits eluded Sealaska for decades. Now it’s ditching timber and plastics, and investing in kelp.
Next articleState’s top epidemiologist has tips for Alaskans heading into the holidays as omicron surge looms