The State Office Building balcony: now it can be told

Capitol insiders claim that the Kremlin-style reviewing platform was a last-minute addition to the plan.

The road to the $730 million state office building (SOB) project for the state House of Representatives has taken many turns, but none involve accountability. Its nomination for a Golden Turkey Award is well-deserved (vote here).

Originally built in 1932 as a Depression-era public works project, the otherwise unremarkable State Office Building has served many functions in the past 90 years.

Plans for its renovation/replacement have kicked around the capitol for a number of years. A piece of legislation passed in June 2021 (on a bipartisan basis) handed future leadership of the House of Representatives a blank check to proceed as they would see fit. No requirements for further votes or basic accountability measures (such as competitive bidding) were included.

The 2021 law didn’t describe a particular project or place an upper-limit dollar amount, but did impose a December 2023 deadline for moving ahead.

In late December 2022, KSTP’s Tom Hauser reported on how the cost for the original project, a mere renovation of the original building, had ballooned to $300 million.

Two days later the project had mutated into a $500 construction project, doubling the size of the existing building. The project was approved by a split voice vote of the House Rules Committee. The “final” price tag of $730 million includes the interest to borrow the $500 million for construction costs. A rendering of the new project,

I’ve circled in red where the reviewing platform/balcony/terrace feature will be located. It’s shown more clearly on the more recent floor plan for the new building’s fifth floor.

Capitol insiders refer to this late-added feature using the Italian term “loggia.” Apparently, the Italian term gained popularity in this context from its association with a similar feature found in the State Capitol building across the street.

Insiders claim that this new feature added to the total cost of the project, but was included at the insistence of senior House Democrats. We have been unable to confirm this story with any documentary proof.

We do know that the overall project required the pre-approval of a group called the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board (CAAPB).

On April 11 of this year, the Board’s lone Republican House member (Rep. Isaac Schultz, R-10B, Elmdale) sent a one-page letter to his fellow Board members.

Rep. Schultz poses 11 excellent questions about the SOB project, to which few, if any, have received answers. His letter refers to an April 2023 working session of the Board. At that meeting, a number of other, smaller, cheaper versions of the project were presented.

In the event, on April 21, the CAAPB approved the current project, on a recorded vote of 7-3.

Later this summer, the state’s office of Management and Budget (MMB) went out with a request for proposals on the financing for the project. Their 250-page prospectus-style document includes no physical description of the project or any itemization of its cost. Those details are left to the imagination of those fronting the three-quarters of a billion dollars needed to fulfill the vision put forth by celebrity architectural firm Robert A.M Stern.

Construction of the project is expected to begin in December.