Legislative leaders cut a ‘sweet deal’ to rebuild State Office Building

State Office Building 01

The 60-year-old State Office Building, located just north of the Capitol itself, will be torn down, legislative leaders decided Tuesday.

And a new four-story structure built that will resemble the current House and Senate office buildings located on the west and east parts of the Capitol Hill campus.

To accommodate relocated staff and other agency moves, the state will buy the American Express building on 4300 S. 27th West, just off of I-215, for $30 million, and remodel it for $60.4 million to house the Agriculture Department and state data center workers, among others.

“This is one sweet deal,” said Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, R-West Valley, whose district includes the AmEx building.

That’s because instead of spending an estimated $330 million to tear down and rebuild the SOB, as it is known, and build other agency buildings, it will cost just around $107 million to buy the 31-acre AmEx property, remodel it, and tear down and rebuild the new SOB (which likely will carry a different name, one would hope).

Tuesday, the Executive Appropriations Committee, made up of leaders of both political parties, the House and Senate, unanimously approved spending $56 million, partly to buy the AmEx building and to pay for studies and other measures.

Of course, when asking for a lot of money, it is always wise for executive branch bosses to include a little something for legislators themselves.

First, as 400 of the currently 700 employees of the SOB are moved out by December to the AmEx building (there are two buildings on the site), around 400 surface parking spaces will become available for the public.

Parking around the Capitol, especially during the 45-day general session that runs from late January to mid-March, is crowded, to say the least.

Bringing complaints from folks trying to come up to legislative hearings and Capitol Hill neighbors who must endure people parking outside of their houses, even though those street spaces are reserved for residents.

So maybe constituents and voters will be complaining less about Capitol Hill parking to their lawmakers.

In the end, after the new SOB is built and opened in early 2023, overall 700 new visitor parking spaces will be available.

“This is really great,” said Senate budget chairman Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton.

Second, while not decided for sure yet, the new SOB, which will have few state employee offices in it, could contain hotel-like rooms for out-of-town legislators to stay in during the session and during interim study days.

Out-of-town lawmakers usually rent local hotel rooms – many at Little America – during the session, with the state picking up the hotel tabs.

Probably half of the lawmakers drive from their homes during the session, or a few long-timers have purchased condos in the area because they come to Salt Lake so much.

But if there were some state-owned hotel rooms in the new SOB, the out-of-town lawmakers would be more likely to make early or late in-session meetings, and save the state some expense money, as well.

In any case, the $56 million is part of $110 million legislators put aside at the end of the 2019 session for the dealing with the old SOB and making other changes in agency space requirements not being currently met.

GOP House and Senate leaders floated the idea at the first of the 2019 session that the old State Office Building be replaced, and a large parking structure be built with a smaller building on top, with some limited office space and a general space for some kind of state museum/education center.

But that was when lawmakers thought they had $1.3 billion in surplus tax revenues.

Other needs cropped up during the session and late February revenue updates cut $300 million from that rosy revenue prediction.

So, instead, legislators approved $110 million in various kinds of building updates and studies.

One $250,000 study will look directly at relieving traffic and parking problems around the Capitol – which is pretty dire during the general session.

When the Capitol itself was remodeled, and when the House and Senate buildings (on the west and east side of the campus) were constructed, legislators themselves were taken care of.

They each got their own parking space, even though they are technically part-time, in the Capitol parking plaza, under the north plaza.

The 104 legislators also got their own individual offices in the new east and west buildings.

(Leaders and committee chairs have offices in the Capitol itself – along with the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, auditor and treasurer.)

But little was done to create parking for the thousands of citizens and school children who visit the campus during the legislative session and other times.

There is a rather small east parking lot for visitors, including reserved spaces for the credentialed media. Otherwise, visitors have to find parking on street-allowed places, stretching for blocks up East Capitol Blvd.

There are a multitude of reasons buying the AmEx building is a great deal, especially coming as it is so quickly, said state building board officials.

There was some reservation at first by Taylorsville City leaders, because the state buying the property would take it off of the local property tax rolls.

But bringing in more than 700 state employees right away, with the possibility of more state buildings being constructed on the mostly vacant 31-acres later, with even more workers, makes it worthwhile now, legislators were told.

“It could turn this area into a central state government complex,” said Jim Russell, head of the Division of Construction and Management.

New, larger legislative hearing rooms could be built in the future SOB – some of the smaller rooms in the House building basement have overflow crowds during the session as is.

And there would be expanded Arts and Heritage displays in the new building, making a more comprehensive experience for Capitol Hill visitors, too.