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Senate panel approves new office building

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By Doug Belden, St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate Rules committee Wednesday approved a preliminary design and budget for a new $90 million state office building project to be built north of the Capitol.

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The project still requires approval by the House Rules panel, which has not scheduled a meeting.

The new building has drawn fire from Republicans as too expensive and unnecessary. After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said Gov. Mark Dayton has asked him to consider cutting about $14 million from the project by putting off construction of a parking ramp west of the new building.

But given Sears Holdings Corp.’s plans to redevelop land near the Capitol where the state leases more than 600 parking spaces, at some point, “you’re going to have unmet parking need,” said Wayne Waslaski, senior director of real estate and construction services for the state Administration Department. The new parking site would have about 500 spaces, he said.

As for the cost of constructing the new building, it would be comparable to similar structures at $268 per square foot, Waslaski said. The recent Andersen and Freeman state buildings were constructed for $233 and $257 per square foot, respectively, he said.

Republicans on the committee tried Wednesday to have the matter referred to a separate committee or tabled, but those efforts failed. The building plan was approved on a voice vote.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said it was “imprudent” to approve the project while a lawsuit that contends the authorization process was unconstitutional is unresolved. A hearing on that suit is set for next week.

But Bakk argued that it might take a while to get a decision from the court, which then could be appealed. “How long are we going to wait?” he asked.

And restoration work under way at the Capitol depends on the new building being constructed to house senators displaced during and after the work is done, Bakk said.

Waslaski said Minnesota Management and Budget does not intend to sell the bonds for the project until the lawsuit is resolved.

The new office building was approved by the Legislature last spring as part of the tax bill, but Republicans have said it didn’t receive the public input or scrutiny it should have.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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