JUNEAU -- A proposal to buy the Legislature's renovated Anchorage office building -- but not the land beneath it -- was dismissed Tuesday by the Senate president and two other Republican senators as unworkable and unpopular.
Speaking to reporters at the Senate majority's weekly news conference, Senate President Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, said it was his observations in caucus and elsewhere that there wasn't much support for buying the building. He said the Legislature would probably agree to a short-term lease of the building for the next year, then come up with a new plan by 2015.
"Now before us is, do we want to maintain the lease, or do we want to purchase the building?" Huggins said.
"A choice between two versions of hell," declared the Senate minority leader, Hollis French, as he walked toward the Senate chambers for a photo session.
Rep. Chris Tuck, the minority leader in the House, expressed a similar idea at Democrats' news conference Tuesday.
"It's still a bad deal, whether we purchase this building or we stick with what we have right now," said Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat.
French, also a Democrat from Anchorage, said the problem began with the renovations and no-bid lease that Republican Rep. Mike Hawker signed with a pair of developers, Mark Pfeffer and Bob Acree.
Hawker, the chairman of the Legislative Council, negotiated the lease last year, then proposed buying just the building for $28 million and renting the land beneath it and the parking lot for another $1.2 million a year -- nearly double the old rent for the entire building with parking lot.
Democrats described what Hawker did as a chump deal that benefitted sharp developers. Republicans were a little kinder, but just as firm.
"The chairman has given his best, but at this moment it's not good enough for many of the lawmakers in the building," said Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, who twice reminded reporters at the news conference that she no longer serves on the Legislative Council.
"It's bad business for the state to buy a building and not the land underneath it," added Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka. "A guy that controls the land controls the value. You can always try that same concept and reverse it -- and say the state's going to own the land and the parking lot, and we'll lease the building. I would expect the developer to say no to that."
Huggins solution: "that the Legislaure maintain its lease for a minimum of one year with an option to purchase, and so that members can have more information."
That suggestion appears to run contrary to the signed lease negotiated by Hawker, which is for 10 years.
"We've got an idea," French said. Asked to explain, he said laughing, "I'm not going to tell you my idea, it's a secret, but it's a good idea."
It's unclear whether that idea was the same as French's next suggestion:
"If I had my way we'd take a time machine and go back to the way it was before the construction, go back to that functional building," he said. "Somebody wanted to build a palace, they got a palace -- I'm opposed to it."
The Legislative Council is the bipartisan, House-Senate committee that manages the Legislature's business. The chairmanship rotates every two years between the House and the Senate. Hawker took over in 2013.
The council has been looking for an Anchorage home since 2002, but has been unable to replace the current building at 733 W. 4th Ave.
McGuire said something needed to be done because the water in the building was bad and the elevator wasn't reliable. French and Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, said there was nothing wrong with the building's water.
Reach Richard Mauer at email@example.com or (907) 500-7388.
By RICHARD MAUER