Officials in Anchorage are one step closer to purchasing the embattled Legislative Information Office and using it to house the city’s police department.
During its Tuesday night meeting, the city’s assembly cast a crucial vote that allows the Anchorage Community Development Authority, a semi-independent municipal agency, to buy the LIO for $14 million. That’s substantially lower than the appraised value of just over $18 million.
One of the reasons offered for the bargain pricing is the building’s fraught political baggage. It drew criticism and condemnation for an expensive, opulent re-design that many said was inappropriate. That shadow, plus a lawsuit, ultimately caused state legislators abandon it.
Assembly member Eric Croft said that after sitting vacant for almost two years, ACDA was right to pounce when it saw the opportunity for a deal.
“We know the history, and the optics, if you will. But it’s not like this building is haunted,” Croft said. “It was a stupid move by the state and we get to take advantage of it.”
The administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announced last week that the large downtown building could soon house the Anchorage Police Department. APD currently occupies a facility five miles away near the U-Med District that officials say the force has drastically outgrown. Supporters of the proposal say leasing the LIO building to the police department will save on the expense of constructing an entirely new headquarters, which officials on Tuesday night estimated could cost $30 to $65 million.
Assembly Member John Weddleton said that having a tenant lined up calmed his concerns over the purchase.
“I was not excited about it until I found out we’re really buying something for the police department that we’re going to have to buy anyway,” Weddleton said. “I think the optics are really, really bad, to put government stuff in this amazing crystal palace, but I’m willing to overlook that because this is a good deal.”
During testimony, criticism of ACDA’s purchase focused on the speed with which the process has advanced, which some felt has left members of the public and business community out of the loop.
Among Assembly members, only Amy Demboski voiced serious opposition, saying that as long as the police department is potentially paying to lease the building, it’s still tax-payers who are on the hook financially.
“This is a rush job. I think it reeks of some sort of special favor. And at the end of the day the tax-payers of Anchorage are going to take it in the shorts,” Demboski said.
Demboski was joined in her no-vote by fellow Eagle River Assembly member Fred Dyson.
The measure was overwhelmingly approved, eight to two, clearing a major hurdle for ACDA’s purchase.