by Representative Norman Rokeberg
March 22, 2005
Alaskans have been debating the location of our Capitol Building since Secretary Seward closed the real estate deal with Russia's Czar for the purchase of Alaska. We voted to relocate the capital from Juneau in 1974 and selected Willow as its site in 1976. However, at several other elections, we rejected the move. The most recent was a failed effort to relocate the Legislature to the Mat-Su area in 2002.
This perennial dogfight is in the news again because of the efforts of Juneau's Mayor Bruce Bothello to design and build a new Capitol Building in his fair city to be paid for by the people of Alaska. Juneau's Mayor is right about one thing - Alaskans need and deserve a new Capitol Building. Our current Capitol was first occupied in 1931 as a federal office building. It fails to meet fire and safety codes, has obstacles for the disabled, lacks parking and public amenities, has antiquated heating and ventilating systems and inadequate wiring, and has insufficient offices, committee rooms and space for legislative chambers. A new structure can be constructed and occupied near the existing structure for a cost in the $100 million range.
Alaskans deserve and need a new Capitol Building, or at least a new legislative hall they can be proud of as a symbol of our state. It should be functional, user and citizen friendly, and architecturally beautiful. The structure should be a statement of freedom, democracy, and the Alaskan way of life.
In order to break the location stalemate that has impeded any "political" progress on building a new building, I have introduced HB 23 that establishes a fair and open competition for construction of a new legislative hall (not Capitol). The concept of the bill is to allow any large community in the State the opportunity to offer to build a home for the Legislature - renting it for $1.00 per year, thereby costing the state very little and breaking the political logjam.
The building specifications, delivery time frame and selection criteria would be undertaken by the Legislative Council. This would allow the Mat-Su area, Juneau, Anchorage, Kenai, and Fairbanks to equitably compete for the privilege of hosting the legislature, if they desired.
While my personal preference is to move our legislature closer to the people (e.g., as suggested by Senator Cowdery, to Point MacKenzie), I truly believe my "build it and they will come" idea is the only way we can resolve this issue once and for all.
Juneau, understandably, will continue to dig deep into their pocket to retain the Legislature and Capital. HB 23 fundamentally lets Juneau put up their money, along with any other community. They have wisely spun the issue of cost to scare Alaskans away from a new capital city (1982 estimated $2.8 billion).
The time has come to examine, debate and resolve this issue. I believe most Alaskans will accept the need for and construction of a new Legislative Hall if it is awarded to a community after a fair and spirited competition and results in very little cost to the state.
Note: Representative Norman Rokeberg is a member of the 24th Alaska State Legislature representing District 27 - Anchorage.
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