It’s not easy moving an entire legislative building.
It’s taken weeks for 85 legislators and staffers to pack up and mark up boxes and furniture for storage, shipping or selling.
For 21 years, Anchorage lawmakers have called home the brown building on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage. It will soon become a construction zone, and some wonder if the makeover is worth the money the state will have to pay in the years to come.
One of the project’s biggest proponents said the structure won’t be lavish but will be a great improvement.
“It's going to look very nice,” said Rep. Mike Hawker (R-Anchorage). “But it's going to be the same building, basically, with the exception of adding a tower.”
Over the next year, the legislative information office is expected to go from drab to fab.
“It's just going to be putting a lot of lipstick on our pig,” said Hawker.
That “lipstick” will cost the state more than $3.3 million every year for the next decade.
“It's a lot of money,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage).
The state does not own the LIO building, so the landlords will foot the bill for renovation. However, the state will pay for it in higher rent—from $57,000 a month, which is what the state is currently paying, to more than $280,000 a month when the project is complete in December 2014.
“This is really a time of city belt-tightening, state belt-tightening and national belt-tightening,” said Sen. Hollis French (D-Anchorage). “I have a hard time explaining to my constituents why I need to quadruple the rent I'm paying here in a place that's entirely functional.”
Mark Pfeffer is one of the landlords. He also owns Pfeffer Development, which will lead the $44 million renovation—“probably my sixth or seventh or eighth project downtown.”
Pfeffer’s other projects include the Dena’ina Convention Center, the Linny Pacillo parking garage and the Nana building.
Once the newly renovated LIO is complete, it will have a heated sidewalk, new plumbing, 24-thousand more square feet once the next-door Anchor Pub is gutted, a closed-circuit security system with 20 cameras, two showers, bathroom stalls made of maple wood and glass, as well as glass elevators.
“What's that thing about if you live in glass houses, you shouldn't throw rocks?” said French, laughing. “Maybe politicians should have glass elevators, I don't know.”
The state will pay $7.5 million for “stuff inside the building--your carpets, your lights, the things inside that are tenant-specific,” according to Hawker.
Wielechowski said the state shouldn’t be spending “that kind of money.”
So if lawmakers, who are the building’s tenants, disagree about the need for a major renovation, why is the project moving forward?
“It's (legislative) council,” said Wielechowski. “They gave the authority to Hawker. I'm in a minority. I'm not on (legislative) council.”
Hawker heads up the council, which spearheaded the project.
The council is a committee of 14 lawmakers whose decisions do not require input from lawmakers outside the group.
“We had a lease commitment through May 31 of 2014 and after that we had no lease space,” Hawker said. “The Legislature had to find a place to move to or negotiate to stay here under existing conditions.”
Those conditions are less than ideal, staffers said.
“The toilets don't flush right, the water is not drinkable; that's why we have big water bottles down in the storage room,” said Carolyn Kuckertz, spokesperson for the Alaska Senate Majority.
“Quite frequently, the plumbing will start leaking and throughout the building you'll see evidence,” Hawker said. “You see that caution tape right up there? I just happened to notice it right up there. That was not a prop.”
Hawker also said all legislators will have the same-sized offices in the new LIO design—“instead of some being palatial and some being small” regardless of rank or party affiliation.
French was skeptical.
“I will wait to see that before I comment,” he said.
During construction, staffers and lawmakers will work from the McKinley office tower on Fourth Avenue or from home.
Real estate agents said the state could have saved at least $16,000 a month had it rented in midtown instead of downtown.
But Hawker said the state got a good deal on rent, which “is 86 percent of fair market value.”
Hawker said the state will also look into eventually buying a building. Three years ago, the state came close to buying a building on West 9th Avenue, but Nana Development Corporation ended up buying it.
The overall goal of the renovation, Hawker said, is to improve the public’s access to its lawmakers.
“It will be transparent government, and folks will come by, take a look in the windows and keep an eye on their government,” Hawker said, referencing the glass walls.
“It's not like it's a baseball stadium where people go because it's a nice stadium,” said Wielechowski. “It's their government.”
Until next December, it will be a government on the move.