Delayed decisions on offices in remade Capitol threaten to delay completion, add costs

Associated Press

A grand makeover of Minnesota's Capitol could face costly delays over a territorial dispute, which centers on whose offices wind up where when construction crews finish the job in 2017.

The tussle over office space spilled into public view Wednesday when a high-level commission postponed approval of the last phase of work in the $273 million renovation. Gov. Mark Dayton said he and other Capitol tenants — the House, Senate, judiciary and attorney general's office — hadn't reached a deal on space allocation despite lengthy private negotiations.

Continue Reading Below

Some of the tensions are rooted in political wrangling over the new Senate office building rising in the Capitol's shadow.

The space agreement is essential to keeping the overall project on schedule, leading to warnings that the state would face up to $680,000 per month in added costs if a deal isn't struck soon. The Capitol Preservation Commission, of which Dayton and top lawmakers are members, plans to regroup next week to try again.

"I will give a 99 percent guarantee that we'll have this project approved next Thursday," Dayton said after adjourning the commission, a message he also delivered to architects and contractors waiting for the go-ahead to sign contracts that otherwise expire on Jan. 31.

The governor said his goal is to open up more of the Capitol for public gathering space and visitor amenities, but some past plans had the administration's footprint in the building growing, too.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, who must vacate the building in June along with all other senators and staff, downplayed the rift while saying it's his duty to make sure there is amble space retained for senators when they return in two years.

"To say we're miles apart would not be accurate. We're awful close," said Bakk, a Democrat from Cook.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, whose signoff is also required, didn't attend the commission hearing. He put the hang-up on the Senate's doorstep, saying that chamber's negotiators were trying to claim too much turf. But he also said a deal was close.

"We're pushing for more public space," Daudt, R-Crown, said. Under some designs, the House would also have some ceremonial leadership offices in the Capitol in addition to its adjacent office building.

None of the parties would reveal the most recent offers or their own bottom lines.

One big question is how many senators will have offices in the Capitol, where all majority-party senators are now. The new $90 million Senate office building, paid for mostly by taxpayers, will be done by next year, but several senators could also score rooms in the Capitol when the remodeling is finished. Republicans are pushing back against the doubling up.

"In my opinion, if you build a new office building for the senators that's where they should be," said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.

Bakk wouldn't say precisely how many senators would get dual offices, but said he wants leaders to retain Capitol space.

The prospect of delays and added costs frustrated preservation commission members not in on the space talks. Public appointee Dana Badgerow said the project is already proceeding on a tight timeline and budget. She fears any extra costs from the space fight "would eat away at" fine art and other finishing touches once the renovation account dries up.

"I would hope we could keep things going and not lose subcontractors and not lose experience and not incur this kind of money," she said.