Concerning New Details Emerge on State Office Building Expansion — Balconies, Tunnels, and Cost Overruns

The $730 million renovation and expansion of the State Office Building may somehow be worse than previously thought. 

A recent review of the 2022 House Rules Committee meeting where the State Office Building Expansion’s $500 million price tag ($730 million if you include interest) first became public raises new questions about the project and what the public is getting for half a billion of their tax dollars. 

The State Office Building, pictured below, was built in 1932. The building currently houses the Secretary of State’s Office, The House of Representatives, and a few other tenants. In recent years, the building has fallen into disrepair. There were, among other things, reports of leaky pipes, ADA accessibility issues in the building and in the tunnel to the Capitol, and a lack of public parking that needed to be remedied. Everyone agreed that the State Office Building had to be renovated, but when the cost of renovating and expanding the building was first made public at this hearing, it raised some eyebrows.

The price tag of their new office building, the new DFL trifecta said, was half a billion dollars before interest.

There’s no question that that figure is shocking. For that price (including interest costs), you could buy two skyscrapers in Downtown Minneapolis and still have enough money left over to give every House Member over $1 million to hire staff. The ornate Capitol renovation was done just a few years back for $300 million, and the Senate built a whole new building for themselves after that for $90 million. 

And If you think that spending $250 million on interest alone is obscene, you’re right. The number is unnecessarily high due to the process used to approve the project. It never went through the traditional bonding process in order to avoid a full vote on the floor of the House which resulted in the bonds being sold to an investment bank in New York at a higher interest rate than usual.

A new review of the aforementioned committee hearing revealed three things. First, due to open appropriations in the resolution, the $500 million price tag is a floor, not a ceiling. Second, major accessibility concerns like the tunnel to the Capitol weren’t addressed in the project despite the DFL saying that public accessibility and safety were key goals of the renovation and expansion. Lastly, the expansion of the footprint and inclusion of luxury features will cost taxpayers nearly $250 million more than the “barebones” cost to improve the infrastructure and alleviate safety concerns in the building.

In the clip below between Rep. Jim Nash (R – Waconia) and then-Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D – Golden Valley), we can see that when Rep. Nash asked for price limits to be set on the open appropriations, Rep. Winkler said that that would be impossible because there were additional costs needed, but he couldn’t say exactly what they were – “it’s like throwing darts at a dartboard.”

Next, this exchange between former Speaker Rep. Kurt Daudt (R – Crown) and Rep. Winkler shows that the accessibility issues in the tunnel to the Capitol from the SOB are not addressed in the half-a-billion-dollar project.

The accessibility issues are so bad that Rep. Daudt says that he has had to help push a motorized wheelchair up the long, narrow incline in the tunnel. Additionally, a later exchange in the same hearing between Rep. Her (D – St. Paul) and Rep. Winkler confirms that the lack of public parking around the SOB is also not addressed in this project. If the goal of the project is to improve accessibility (as is said so many times in the hearing), why overlook such well-known problems?

Finally, this last clip shows that the expansion and inclusion of luxury features will cost $250 million more than the base cost of making the building safe and “addressing infrastructure concerns.” The cost of the project doubled due to the DFL wanting to increase the footprint of the building and include luxury features like two new balconies and a large rooftop patio outside of the speaker’s office. 

This key committee hearing clearly shows that the new State Office Building will truly be a palace for politicians. Key accessibility issues were neglected, the cost of the project doubled due to the inclusion of luxury features and an addition, and the open appropriations in the resolution mean that the final cost will only go up.

If you’re opposed to this project, tell your legislator to Stop the Dig at