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Lawmakers vote to buy Anchorage LIO, but developers haven't agreed to their price

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  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published March 31, 2016

JUNEAU — A committee of the Alaska Legislature on Thursday evening voted 13-1 to offer to buy lawmakers' Anchorage offices for $32.5 million from developers Mark Pfeffer and Bob Acree — a decisive step after months of deliberation over whether to move to a cheaper, state-owned building nearby.

The catch: Pfeffer and Acree haven't agreed to sell at that price. Their last offer, which came after a lawmaker's request earlier this week, was $34 million.

"We are glad they came to a decision," Amy Slinker, a spokeswoman for the developers, said in a prepared statement Thursday night. "Now we have something to talk about. We are going to analyze it and get back to them soon."

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, sounded uncompromising.

"We have drawn a line in the sand," said Stevens after the meeting of the Legislative Council, which he chairs. The 14-member House-Senate committee is charged with handling the Legislature's internal business and budgets.

"I think we'll not budge off that price," Stevens said after the committee heard from Pfeffer and Pfeffer's attorney, and went into executive session to discuss the Anchorage Legislative Information Office, where nearly half of the Legislature's 60 members have office space between sessions in Juneau.

Among the participants in the closed-door deliberations was Mike Abbott, Anchorage's city manager, who was there on behalf of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz's administration.

Berkowitz's administration has previously said it could act as a third-party broker to resolve the dispute over the lease — potentially by buying the building and leasing it back to the Legislature.

"There were questions about that, and I was there to answer them," Abbott said in a brief interview after he left the meeting.

Stevens said later that it's possible the city could finance the deal, though he added that no details have been worked out yet.

The council, which is packed with members of the Republican-led majorities in the House and Senate, had only one dissenting vote on the offer to buy: Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake.

"I don't think it's the building that the public wants us to be in," Neuman said.

Pfeffer, who owns his own development company and manages the landlords' partnership, 716 West Fourth Ave. LLC, left the meeting without answering reporters' questions.

The landlords' original asking price for the building was $37 million.

An independent analysis recently commissioned by lawmakers found the current offices' per-square-foot costs would match the Atwood Building's over a 20-year period if the purchase price fell to $35.6 million.

But because the Legislature needs less room in the Atwood Building, the price of the Fourth Avenue space would have to fall $29.2 million to match the overall cost.

Pfeffer said at Thursday's meeting that he'd dropped his first offer to $35.45 million in response to an initial offer from Stevens to buy the building for $32.5 million. He then dropped it again, to $34 million, after Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, the council's vice chair, asked the landlords for a compromise number this week.

The offer approved by the council Thursday, Stevens said, is "what we think it's worth."

"And it's up to him to decide whether he wants to accept that or not," Stevens said.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said the offer was less than the landlords spent on the building, but added that they'd been caught in the middle of the state's budget crisis, with lawmakers trying to close a $4 billion budget deficit.

"He came through and did everything the Legislature asked him to do at just about every step," said Hoffman, referring to Pfeffer. "Many legislators felt we had an obligation to purchase the building, which was probably the most unpopular step with the public."

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