In the final minutes of the legislative session Monday, the Senate feverishly passed a bonding bill that included a priority of Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook: $7.2 million for an underground parking garage at the State Capitol that would provide a grand total of 30 vehicle spaces.
That works out to $240,000 per parking space. The underground garage would obviate the need for what’s there now, a surface lot that in the past was used for the governor and constitutional officers and a few select staff. With the surface lot gone, it could be landscaped to improve the site’s aesthetic properties.
The Senate passed the bonding bill with overwhelming bipartisan support, but just a few moments too late for a vote by the House, which had already adjourned.
The “garage-mahal” isn’t dead yet, however.
With Gov. Mark Dayton vetoing the education budget, a special session is likely in the coming weeks, which means legislators can again introduce a bonding measure that could include the ramp.
The Senate had about $107 million in capital projects in its now-defunct bill — everything from $10 million for flood relief in Otter Tail County to $8 million for bridges to nearly $34 million to finish the Capitol renovation project now underway.
The underground garage was not included in a group of “out-of-scope” projects approved in May at the meeting of the Capitol Preservation Commission, the bipartisan board managing the $300 million Capitol renovation project.
At that meeting, Bakk advocated for the underground garage, saying continued use of the surface parking lot at the northwest corner of the Capitol would mar the view from both the Capitol and the new Senate Office Building.
Bakk on Wednesday said that “I want to landscape up to the building. If we do not build (the underground garage), we will have a surface parking lot there. That is not the visual I want.”
Bakk, whose office will be in the Capitol building and not the new Senate building, said he also was concerned about security. An underground ramp, he said, would be gated, with controlled access and cameras, providing better security for those who use it, including the governor and constitutional officers.
The veteran Iron Range senator’s commitment to the Capitol project is unquestionable, sometimes at the expense of the political fortunes of himself and his party. It was Bakk who led the charge for the new Senate office building now under construction, inserting language for it into a bill at the end of the 2013 session. House Republicans made an election issue of it and some House DFLers remain convinced the controversy helped cost them their majority. That building will cost $76 million when it’s completed later this year. It will have its own $14 million underground garage, paid for through user fees.
By moving the senators’ offices into the new Senate building, Bakk has maintained the public will be able to claim more space to celebrate the grandeur of democracy in the renovated Capitol.