JUNEAU — A legislative committee has taken its first formal step toward spending up to $12.5 million on a new office space for Anchorage lawmakers.
The Legislative Council voted 12 to 1 Monday to allow its chairman, Kodiak Republican Sen. Gary Stevens, to negotiate a deal to buy the Wells Fargo building in Spenard, near the intersection of Benson Boulevard and Minnesota Drive, at a price capped at $12.5 million.
Juneau Rep. Sam Kito, the committee's only Democratic minority member, was the sole opposing vote.
Lawmakers said the Wells Fargo space, which was placed on the market this year, could offer them a way out of their Anchorage office dilemma. In March, an Anchorage Superior Court judge invalidated the Legislature's 10-year lease for its existing, renovated office space on Fourth Avenue. And last month, Gov. Bill Walker said he'd veto a legislative effort to buy the building for $32.5 million.
"The price is right," said Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, referring to the Spenard space. "The building's right."
Walker's chief of staff, Jim Whitaker, told Stevens on Monday that the governor wouldn't veto the Wells Fargo building purchase, Stevens said.
Lawmakers could move into the new space with minimal work, Stevens added. It would likely be configured with a single space for meetings of the full House and Senate during special sessions, Stevens said, but he added: "It's not a Capitol, and will never be."
Walker's administration has offered to share its main Anchorage setting, the downtown Atwood Building, but the Legislature hasn't leaped at the opportunity. Stevens said the Wells Fargo building would likely be cheaper, would keep the two government branches physically separate, and would allow other executive agencies to fill the Atwood Building.
Stevens' committee Monday approved putting down a $125,000 deposit on the building that the state would get back if lawmakers decide against the purchase. In the meantime, Wells Fargo won't look for other buyers, Stevens said.
The Legislature will also have the building appraised.
Any purchase would have to be approved by the Legislative Council, the Legislature's executive committee, and ultimately by the Legislature as part of next year's budget.
Lawmakers are still renting their current Anchorage space on a month-to-month basis under an "implied contract," Stevens said, with payments adding up to $4 million a year.
The Legislature is not trying to "disadvantage" its current landlords, Mark Pfeffer and Bob Acree, Stevens said. But he and Johnson both said the Legislature doesn't appear to have the ability to stay in the Fourth Avenue space.
"The governor's put us in a box a little bit. The judge has put us in a box a little bit. He's in that same box," said Johnson, referring to Pfeffer, the managing landlord. "What choice do we have?"
A spokeswoman for the two landlords didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.