This week, the new Minnesota Senate Building finally became just that — a working building for the Legislature’s upper chamber. The first meeting in the new hearing rooms was Thursday; staff offices began moving in Monday, and senators’ offices will start filling up next week.
The $90 million structure remains a political football, too, as evinced by the latest GOP kick. Mound Republican Sen. David Osmek this week faulted the DFL Senate leadership’s decision to subsidize parking this year for staff members — of both parties — at the $148-per-month parking garage on the building’s lower levels. The subsidy will cut that rate roughly in half, equalizing it with other Capitol complex parking-ramp rates and softening the blow of what would have been a de facto pay cut. The subsidy is not offered to senators themselves, who receive per-diem payments to cover expenses such as parking. Osmek objected that the subsidies added to the taxpayers’ tab for “this boondoggle.”
Such talk is likely to continue, given GOP hopes that criticism of the building will play in their favor in this fall’s election. But our bet is that critics will shortly be joined by a chorus of praise — and maybe by whispers from Republican senators wishing they had not refused to move in this year.
Working with a design by BWBR Architects and Pickard Chilton and considerable input from Senate staffers, Mortenson Construction has created a worthy addition to the Capitol complex. It’s neither ostentatious nor austere. Rather, it’s a sleek, handsome place whose curved front, high ceilings and large windows allow it to borrow grandeur from Cass Gilbert’s masterpiece across the street. Its public spaces are spacious; its senators’ offices sufficient and its staff spaces functional, an editorial writer observed on a tour this week.
Ninety-four percent of its materials were fabricated or built in this state. Its facade of Kasota stone from Mankato matches the stone Gilbert used on the Capitol’s interior walls.
Visitors won’t let the building’s critics get away much longer with calling the Senate building luxurious. It’s not. But its airy feel, ample gathering space, abundant parking for the disabled and easy tunnel access to the rest of the Capitol complex will make it appealing. And its temporary Senate chamber will allow the Senate to operate smoothly during the 2016 session, when everything but the House chamber in the Capitol will be closed for reconstruction. House members may yet wish they would have accepted the Senate’s invitation and moved in, too.