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Minnesota's new Senate offices — the building that became a campaign theme — are almost ready

The side of the building facing the state Capitol and University Avenue.
MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
The side of the building facing the state Capitol and University Avenue.

The biggest political bogeyman of the last Minnesota election cycle has sleek, floor-to-ceiling windows, modern amenities and plenty of parking.

It goes by different names, depending on who you ask. Some Senate Democrats, who pushed to construct an all-new office building for themselves during and after the messy restoration of the state Capitol, call it the legislative office building. Republicans, who said the building was unnecessary, added the word "state" to the name so they could use the acronym "SLOB." Some House Democrats, who saw the $90 million project turn into a potent campaign theme against them last fall, make sure to emphasize that it’s the Senate office building (not the House’s). 

Whatever it’s called, the building is nearly ready for its public debut.

After more than a year of planning and construction, furniture will start arriving in the space next month, with an opening date slated for early next year. Sitting across the street from the Capitol’s north side, the new building will have offices for all 67 state senators and their staff, plus several large hearing rooms. One 250-seat room is more than double the size of any hearing room in the Capitol, while another will serve as the temporary Senate chambers next year as the restoration project is underway. Senators’ pictures already mark their dusty desks in the new chamber.

The three-story building will have restrooms on every floor (the Capitol will have no running water next year), as well as rooms for nursing mothers. A $13.6 million, 260-stall parking garage underneath the building will offer up some of the only parking on the Capitol campus for those with disabilities. Senators and staff will also park there for about $150 per month. 

The building’s tall windows are designed to frame the state Capitol, with views of the 109-year-old building available from every floor. When the Capitol restoration is complete, the Senate building is meant to fit into a new, more public-friendly design for those visiting. It will offer easy access to the state Capitol building, public seating areas and phone chargers throughout. There’s also a plaza facing the Capitol for gatherings and rallies.

To stay within the budget for the project, some furniture from senator offices in the Capitol will be moved over to the building. And there’s no budget for art in the new building, so don’t expect to see anything like the giant (and sometimes controversial) murals in the Capitol.

“We were sensitive to the criticisms that it was going to be a ‘luxury office building,’” said project manager Vic Thorstenson during a recent tour of the building.

Even still, the project remains political. Republican Senate Minority Leader David Hann said the building isn’t functionally designed to hold “two independent organizations” — Republicans and Democrats — and their staff members in the same place.

The ground floor of the building will have sweeping views
MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
The ground floor of the building will have sweeping views facing the Capitol and public seating areas for visitors.

And Republicans maintain the building was never needed in the first place. “It absolutely was not necessary,” Hann said. “We all believed the Capitol restoration needed to be done, but there is no reason to believe that the restoration couldn’t have been done while still preserving the Senate space.” Hann said. Senators currently have offices in both the Capitol and the nearby State Office Building.

House Democrats, who had to approve the final designs of the building for senators, saw the project become a stand-in for tax-and-spend policies in the 2014 election. They lost the majority to Republicans last fall, who called the new building “luxury” in fliers in key rural districts.

Some of those fliers could be recycled in the 2016 election cycle. “We had to bring this project negatively to the Democrats in the House last fall, and it was a big part of the reason why voters thought the Democrats in the majority had lost touch with their constituents,” Hann said. “ The Senate majority has not had to face elections since they approved this project, as well as a host of other bad decisions.”

But time marches on: DFL senators have already started touring the building to claim office spaces. The process is based on seniority, so senators like Dick Cohen, who has served for nine terms, got to pick a slightly larger space near the offices of the chamber’s Finance Committee, which he chairs. Ten-term DFL Sen. LeRoy Stumpf picked a corner office with windows wrapping around two sides and a view of the Capitol (Thorstenson calls it the “terrarium” for how much sun will be streaming into the room at certain times of the day).

The temporary Senate chambers in the new building
MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
The temporary Senate chambers in the new building while the Capitol undergoes restoration.

It remains to be seen if and when Republicans will move over to the controversial space. Hann said they haven’t been asked to move yet, so his caucus hasn’t discussed it. 

“Nobody has come to us and said we have to make a decision,” Hann said. “We are going to have more room than what we really need. We always thought this is not a good plan to build this building, but it’s done and I guess we are going to have this extra space. At this point we haven’t talked about it as a caucus.” 

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Comments (23)

New Senate Office Building

It's clear that the Republicans would not have supported building the present Capitol in the name of "losing touch with their constituents." A pole barn would do.

The building

If I were the Republicans, and thankfully I am not, I would pass a bill in the house turning the building over to the University of Minnesota. It could serve as a base of operations for the study of state government.

Parking

HA! They won't really pay for parking. They get a per diem to cover it.

the study of state government?

Surely Hiram Foster is jesting. There is no serious study of state or local politics/government at the undergrad level of the UofM . . . or anywhere else in our mediocre system of higher ed . . . too much of the money going to sports complexes and coaches' salaries?
-- John Watson Milton, author and former State Senator

Took about two seconds to prove you wrong

Remember taking several classes when I was an undergrad in the 80s, and I see there's still quite a few:

http://cla.umn.edu/polisci/undergraduate/courses

And besides:

Civics should really be a high school thing.

The Only Way Our Republican Friends Gain More Mileage

out of the Senate Office Building is to refuse to move into it.

But even that would likely be seen as "cutting off your nose to spite your face."

In the end, this issue is already over.

Still, I'm left to wonder if our Republican friends have even the slightest glimmer of an idea,...

of how to govern,...

or legislate,...

in ways that might be useful to their constituents and the rest of the citizens of the state.

From what I can see, they're still too busy trying to serve the interests of Grover Norquist to serve anyone else.

The burden of bringing the neg

"We had to bring this project negatively to the Democrats in the House last fall."

Kind of an odd sentence, but it does hint at the huge burden David Hann is forced to carry on his shoulders as Senate Minority Leader. After all, it wasn't just the office building they had to bring negatively to House Democrats, but "a host of other bad decisions." (Like having to abolish the MPCA Citizens' Board, and giving current and future mine owners or operators a pass on having to apply for permits to pollute, no doubt.)

Seeing as how he's burdened with the knowledge “It absolutely was not necessary,” and seeing as he's known for his integrity and adherence to the common sense principles of clear right and wrong, I'm sure he -- being the caucus leader and all -- won't be moving his office to the new building but will be addressing his constituent's concerns in his current office, or one of the other soon-to-be-vacant offices in "both the Capitol and the nearby State Office Building," and won't set foot in the awful new place at any other time than (mandatory) Senate floor sessions.

Unwavering man of principal that he is, there's no doubt he knows (to his bones) that "the Leader must Lead" which makes it almost impossible to imagine he'd allow himself to enter (or, worse, Lead his Republican Senate colleagues) through the doors of such a monument to the Absolutely Not Necessary for anything other than those must-attend gatherings.

And seeing as how this is an election year, and seeing as how he and his Republican colleagues have made such a huge deal of it for so long, I'm sure he and they are acutely aware of how many Minnesota voters will be watching to see what he and they will actually do when the doors open and things "get real." And, as long as there's going to be all that extra room in the Capitol and State Office Building, there will be no reason they (or any of their outraged constituents coming to meet with them) would enter the Tower of Shame when the Senate's not meeting on the floor.

And, given what you had to say about Republican's lack of non-Norquist ideas, they probably wouldn't need to set foot in the place even then, were it not for the laws related to legislator's (minimal) duties.

It will be interesting to see what they do. I hope they don't let their constituents down by caving in to the temptations of the Outlandishly Posh and take up residence there. After all the terrible things they've had to say about the building it would be a huge letdown to see that happen.

It would look sort of hypocritical, you know?

Office space

The building doesn't have to be used for legislative office space. So here is my question. As part of next year's campaign when all seats in the legislature will be up for election, will Republicans commit to passing legislation barring the use the building for senate offices, and to find some permanent, alternate use for it?

How does this building help

How does this building help the average Minnesotan? It just goes to show that elected officials don't care about your money, they care about themselves. Along with the new "digs" I'm sure they will voting themselves a raise, more per diem and better retirement packages while middle class folks get hosed from their policies!! One hell of a job if you can get it..

Good news!

They may try to sneak in one last outrageous bump during the coming session, but you'll probably be relieved to hear you'll soon have the opportunity to get the option to raise their own pay and per diem out of those thieving hoser's hands:

May 20, 2013

"In the waning days of the legislative session, the House and Senate placed a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot proposing to take the power of legislative paychecks out of lawmakers' hands and give it to an appointed bipartisan panel.

“Nothing has a more direct benefit to ourselves than our own pay,” said Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley. “There is a glaring conflict of interest.”

http://www.startribune.com/minnesota-prepare-to-vote-on-lawmaker-pay/208...

Sounds like Kent agrees with you.

Put Up, Or...

I know it's been years since the pay of legislators has been raised. Do you have any evidence of legislators conspiring to increase their pension benefits? Do you even know when they were last raised?

More facts, less rhetoric, please, since you are so sure of yourself it shouldn't be difficult.

Because it doesn't pay all that well and it makes it difficult to hold a real job on a part time basis, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the parties to attract candidates. Not really a " hell of a job" after all; although it is easy to demagogue.

Have you been to the Capitol

I am wondering how many of the folks complaining about the new office building have been to the Capitol and its associated office spaces. Have you been denied the chance to watch an important hearing because there were no seats in the tiny hearing room? Have you seen legislative staffers working in tiny closets while they are expected to be efficient in doing our business and providing oversight for complex governmental agencies? Have you been squashed in the halls?

Minnesota is a more complex and populated state than when Cass Gilbert built our lovely Capitol. We expect instant responses from our legislators and good government with transparency and access unlike ever before. That kind of service requires some space.

Good government should not be a series of tantrums. Now that the building is built it is unseemly and a waste of everyone's time for the Republicans to threaten to hold their breath until after the next election before they move into their new offices.

The capitol

I have been to the capitol a lot. And I have never had much problem meeting a senators.in their offices, In practical terms, it would be ok if their offices and facilities were a little more spacious, but it's not something that's worth losing a senate seat over. The Republican attitude toward the Senate Office Building is the purest form of hypocrisy I have ever seen. The people who financed their campaign in 2014 couldn't have cared less about the building. All they do care about is blocking tax increases. And know it's the same GOP legislators who campaigned so vigorously against the building, who are now so eagerly picking out the drapes for their new offices.

Well said!

You (and John Ellenbecker) hit this particular nail right on the head.

It was and is a completely practical matter that made me look up these numbers:

"Work began on the capitol in 1896, and construction was completed in 1905."

MN population in 1900: 1,751,394

MN population in 2015: 5,303,925

And (both of) your comments reminded me of these two old standbys:

"You can't put 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5 pound sack"; and

"Penny wise and pound foolish."

It's amazing, but only "fiscally conservative Republicans" have the ability to convince almost half the people a lot of the time that loggers would be better off using axes, hand saws and horses instead of chainsaws and skidders (or "feller bunchers") because they cost less, and are therefore the more prudent and efficient "utilization of scare resources."

www.deere.com/en_US/products/equipment/feller_bunchers/tracked_feller_bu...

Or, as John Clouse pointed out, if it just HAS to be done, a pole barn or windowless cinder block warehouse would be a much more affordable option because glass is such an extravagant waste of taxpayer money.

To begin with

This building will provide adequate facilities for at least one house of the legislature. As someone who used to be involved in local government I often had to go to the Capitol for committee hearings and meetings with legislators. The facilities were rarely adequate to meet the needs of those using them. Committee hearings were in rooms that lacked adequate space for those members of the public that were attending. Standing in a crowded hearing room for hours is no way to treat the public. It encourages people to leave and never come back. Participation requires facilities that actually meet the needs of the participants - and I am one member of the public that is happy to see expanded facilities.

Really?

“We all believed the Capitol restoration needed to be done, but there is no reason to believe that the restoration couldn’t have been done while still preserving the Senate space.” Hann said. This is awfully disingenuous of Sen. Hann. My understanding is that for several decades, most people who used that space allotted to Senators in the Capitol felt it was inadequate, even problematic, so merely preserving that space would have kept it inadequate. And meanwhile there were many compelling interests in need of more Capitol space that the renovation, with safety-valve of a Senate building, could address. Sen. Hann and his colleagues will in their day-to-day work benefit from the correct solution to a decades-long problem, while continuing to make political hay out of it.

You are totally correct

The Capitol was an complete inadequate mess in the '80s and earlier. Anyone who claims differently never went there

The best defense of this

The best defense of this building I've heard is more room for the people to go see the political process at work. That sounds great but the folks with the most skin in the game are workers that pay the freight with taxes. They actually have to be at work to pay for the building we are talking about. How in the world can you work and go see the working of our Government. Plus all the damage the politicians do is behind closed doors.

Two Independent Organization

"Hann said the building isn’t functionally designed to hold 'two independent organizations -- Republicans and Democrats'." This is the very crux of the problem. Hann and his ilk seem to forget that they are a single organiztion, the Minnesota Senate. This building is not the headquaters of either party.

No art in a public building?

That is sad and ridiculous.

For just a few percent of the cost of the building, you could fill the place with art. You're really saving nothing by not having it, and you're making the place look dreadfully dull.

But, that's the conservative mentality, it seems.

Try attending some time

It's fascinating to visit the State Capitol during February, and see the place packed with citizens, representing every possible group: students, businesspeople, various non-profits, community groups like volunteer fireman and yes, many of these visitors are taxpayers. I owned my own business, so I could take a day off to drive to St. Paul. I know other private employers who would let employees attend a "Day at the Capitol" if it was business related.
I presume others just take a vacation day. Lots of seniors at the Capitol, representing their communities on some board or another.
It is really democracy in action at that point.
Yes, Joe is right - they do way too much business at the very end of every session in private, in conference committee. But plenty of things citizens want get included in that mix. It's just not transparent how that happens, exactly. That always frustrates me.
I always thought the House and Senate building were rather inadequate, and the Capitol sorely in need of major work. Lovely Senate offices for the powerful, adequate for rank and file. Pretty bad for staff, and really inadequate for the public.

local and state gov courses at UofM

Jim Camery --
I'm sorry you didn't have time to READ my earlier comment about the absence of political science courses on state and local government. I reviewed the list you posted, and stand by my statement:
"There is no serious study of state or local politics/government at the undergrad level of the UofM . . . or anywhere else in our mediocre system of higher ed." And frankly, Jim, it's pretty lame to say that "civics" should be taught by K-12. You missed the point completely!
-- John Milton