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Lawmakers from Anchorage getting spiffy new digs -- at $281,638 a month

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Despite bipartisan calls for spending restraint, Anchorage legislators are getting spiffy -- and spendy -- new digs in the Legislative Information Office downtown in Alaska’s largest city.

The renovated and expanded offices will be "fabulous," said Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, who personally handled the deal with real estate developer Mark Pfeffer. The building on West Fourth Avenue in Anchorage currently houses the Anchorage Legislative Information Office, and includes a public meeting room for Anchorage hearings as well as offices for local legislators.

To give the legislators more space, the neighboring Anchor Pub and Club building has been bought by Pfeffer's company, which will allow the legislative workers to expand there. Further, the current elevator for the six-floor building will be moved outside the existing building footprint to provide more usable space inside.

Rent: $281,638 a month 

The cost of the new lease will be $281,638 per month, nearly five times the current cost of $56,863 per month, according to the new 10-year lease the state signed in September for some two dozen offices for lawmakers from Anchorage.  The lease agreement with Pfeffer says that amount has been certified as 10 percent below the going rate for such space.

Still, the size and cost have raised some concerns.

"How can people fail to understand how the public is going to perceive this?" asked Zack Fields, spokesman for the Alaska Democratic Party. "It would be absurd if there wasn't a deficit, but there is a deficit," he said.

Legislators, however, say they had few options.

The existing lease, which was signed in 2003, expired in March. The deal for the new building was negotiated by Hawker, who chairs the Legislative Council, the 14-member joint-House and Senate committee that manages the business of the Legislature.

'Our last option' 

The Council discussed the deal in a series of executive decisions, and empowered Hawker to negotiate the lease payments with the building owner. The final cost does not appear to have been discussed in a public meeting, but is in the lease agreement provided by the Legislative Affairs Agency.

A spokesman for Senate President Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, said a deal to move to the old Unocal building off Ninth Avenue in Anchorage fell through, and no other workable properties could be found.

"This was basically our last option and what we were left with," said Carolyn Kuckertz, spokeswoman for the Senate Republican Majority caucus that Huggins heads.

House leaders who serve on the Council, including Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, and Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, did not return calls about the decision.

Hawker's comment about the new building being "fabulous" came from the minutes of an earlier meeting during which he persuaded other legislators to empower him to negotiate the new lease.

Just one member of the minority Democrats sitting on the Legislative Council approved the deal. Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, said he supported the decision to remodel the existing building. He described his vote as neither enthusiastic nor reluctant, but "realistic."

The building's remodel is under way and expected to be completed not long after the end of the next legislative session. Pfeffer's company, as part of the contract with the state, is providing replacement space for the Anchorage LIO in during the construction process.

Contact Pat Forgey at pat(at)alaskadispatch.com