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Just wrong that 4th Ave. Theatre idles as legislative palace goes up

Sam Combs

Fifty-nine years ago my family arrived in Anchorage. We were here before statehood and have seen many changes to Anchorage and Alaska — some for the better.

I’ve been increasingly frustrated with our recent governors and legislative majority, as they have moved away from serving Alaskans to pursuing their own agendas. While claiming to be fiscally conservative, the majority disregard conservative financial accountability. This Legislature does not accurately reflect the values of the Alaska where I’ve spent nearly 60 years -- values such as respect for our fellow Alaskans, a desire for a bright future for our state by properly funding our schools and conservative, but intelligent fiscal policy.

Representative Hawker negotiated the sole-source, no-bid “Taj MaHawker”: the extravagant remodeling of the existing Legislative Information Office (LIO) in Anchorage. This boondoggle doesn’t reflect the fiscally conservative values of our community, and we need a change in order to fix the billion-dollar deficits that have followed the Legislature's decisions.  Let me be clear that I don’t hold the design team responsible for this fiasco, they are merely looking after their business. Unfortunately, Hawker wasn’t looking after ours.

To help make those changes I’ve decided to run for the Alaska House of Representatives against Hawker.

As a small business owner in House District 28 for 22 years, architect, Anchorageite and Alaskan, I find it incredibly sad and at the same time offensive that while the "Taj Mahawker" building has millions of dollars of public funds poured into it, our historic 4th Avenue Theatre lies fallow and deteriorating a block away. The difference between the vision I have for Alaska and Rep. Hawker’s is like the differences between the LIO and the old 4th Avenue Theatre. The difference also between the LIO and sufficiently funding our schools, where our most important resource -- our children -- are educated.

As the historic preservation architect on the first home and first school in Anchorage, whose team was chosen to restore the 4th Avenue Theatre in 2007, I’ve been incredibly disappointed by the impending loss of history. The theater has now been sold to a private entity that does not appear to be interested in restoring it. I grew up going to the movies in that gem of a building, but none of our children have had the fortune of experiencing it.  I’d love to see the 4th Avenue Theatre back in the fabric of our community, just as I’d like to see respect, tolerance, and common sense return to the Legislature.

Less than a block away from the theater sits the Taj MaHawker, an architecturally ambiguous building with no historical value that has an initial $7.5 million of public funds poured into a sinkhole of dubious outcome for a building we will not own. Who knows the actually amount that will actually be spent by the state. Additionally, the full service lease that was $683,356 a year has ballooned to an outrageous sum of almost $5 million per year — over seven times what we’re paying now. Very few legislators actually use the LIO — most of the ones I’ve spoken with have their own offices.  Where are the priorities to our people, our children, the accountability of responsible funding and the sense of history of our community?

It’s time we have an architect in the Alaska Legislature, not a retired accountant whose oversight of public funds is questionable. I look forward to serving all of the people of my district, community, and state, whether undeclared, Republican or Democrat. I will serve in a fiscally conservative manner, caring for our children by properly funding our schools and making sure the facilities are to the highest standards, working to bring health care to all, preserving voting rights and equal rights for all, ensuring women’s rights to make their own health decisions, making sure our resources are developed wisely, that our state benefits from those resources and that our infrastructure is maintained and improved for all. Our House must be restored to the people.

Sam Combs is an architect running for Alaska State House in District 28, which runs from South Anchorage and the Hillside to Portage.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.