JUNEAU -- The Legislature is bidding to buy a downtown Anchorage building that could cost an estimated $16 million to remodel, including fixing asbestos issues. Legislators plan to turn the building into offices for themselves and their staff.
The Legislature has put in a bid to buy the six-story Chevron Corp. building on West Ninth Avenue near the Delaney Park Strip. Formerly the Unocal building, it's been a low-rise landmark in Anchorage since 1969, a building that's basically a box of windows with the oil company name on top.
Legislators have talked for years about moving out of the current office space they lease in Anchorage on West Fourth Avenue, saying there's not enough office space or parking. This is the latest push to make it happen, but it is not without controversy. Senate Majority Leader Johnny Ellis said he's not comfortable with the estimated $16 million cost of remodeling the Chevron building, or with the state taking the property off the city tax rolls.
"If (legislators) think their offices are cramped or they don't have the right view, that doesn't impress me," said Ellis, an Anchorage Democrat.
Senate President Gary Stevens was among those in favor of submitting the bid. The Kodiak Republican said there will be more legislators from Southcentral Alaska after the legislative districts are redrawn following the 2010 census, increasing pressure for space inside the building.
The bid to purchase the 55,000-square-foot building was submitted by the Legislative Council, a group of 14 senators and representatives that handles administrative business of the Legislature. The Legislature won't say how much it offered on the building until it finds out if the state was the winning bidder. The bids were due by the end of the day Friday, and Chevron is supposed to announce the results sometime this week.
The assessed value of the Chevron building is $1.8 million, which is mostly for the value of the land.
If the Legislature's bid is accepted and lawmakers don't change course on buying the building, the state will have until April 16 to submit a purchase agreement to Chevron along with a deposit of 5 percent of the purchase price. There would later need to be an appropriation from the Legislature to cover the cost of remodeling it.
Senate President Stevens said it's a question of what makes the most financial sense for office space.
"We're trying to find a reasonable solution to this. We looked at building our own building in Anchorage, that seemed to be pretty costly compared to buying this one," Stevens said.
The Anchorage legislative office building is a center of activity when lawmakers aren't in Juneau during the 90 days of the annual regular session. Anchorage and Mat-Su Valley legislators have offices there. So do Stevens and several other legislators from elsewhere around the state, and public hearings are common.
The Legislature has three years left on the lease of 42,000 square feet in the Fourth Avenue building, with an annual lease cost of $648,000.
The state would no longer pay that cost if it purchased the Chevron building. But it would pay to buy the building, pay for the remodel, and for annual costs to operate the building. The 2008 costs for utilities and parking lot maintenance of the building ran Chevron $470,799.
Chevron has since moved its operations to Centerpoint Drive in Midtown and the building on West Ninth Avenue is currently unoccupied.
Valdez Republican Rep. John Harris, chair of the Legislative Council, said he thinks it's still debatable if lawmakers should buy or keep leasing.
Harris said there needs to be office space to accommodate the additional legislative seats from the Anchorage area expected after the Census. But he said the Legislative Council could decide to free up about eight offices in the building it currently leases by saying lawmakers from outside Anchorage should no longer have offices there.
Harris said the building the Legislature leases now has a mix of bigger offices and smaller ones. He said that if the Legislature is going to move into a new building, he wants all the offices to be the same size and all to have windows.
"And then you have less squabbling, less fighting over who gets what office. Because they'll all be pretty much the same," Harris said. "It's always a people game, just trying to manage people's emotions and feelings."
RIM architects did an analysis for the Legislature on the condition of the building, and what it would take to get it in good enough shape.
"The majority of the building elements and systems are from the building's original construction in the 1970s and are near the end of, or beyond, their life span. No major renovation has occurred for the life of the building. One reason is likely the presence of asbestos in the structural frame fireproofing," the analysis said.
The analysis said the building could be occupied without removing the asbestos. "(But) this could place the state in a vulnerable position with state employees who are concerned with the perceived danger of the asbestos not remaining contained."
By SEAN COCKERHAM