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State again ponders new building near Roundhouse

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A plan to build a new three-story executive office building near the state Capitol could be revived by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration, after being authorized more than 10 years ago but later stalling.

Though the project still faces hurdles, several top lawmakers and the appointed head of the agency that oversees state government buildings both expressed support for the idea during a meeting of the Capitol Building Planning Commission last week.

These old buildings near the Roundhouse are being used as state offices. A plan to build a new three-story executive office building could be revived after stalling more than 10 years ago. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

“We’re excited about the possibility,” General Services Secretary Ken Ortiz, a Lujan Grisham appointee, said in a recent interview.

Ortiz said his department has received numerous requests from other state agencies about available office space, particularly in the downtown Santa Fe area, and said a solution needs to be figured out.

In addition to providing more space, the construction of a new building near the Roundhouse could better consolidate state government functions while also allowing agencies that currently lease office space – including the State Auditor’s office and State Treasurer’s office – to be relocated into space owned by the state.

Currently, New Mexico’s state government owns more than 72 million square feet of office space in Santa Fe, while leasing more than 482,000 square feet of space, according to the General Services Department.

In Albuquerque, the state owns 998,214 square feet of office space and leases 847,234 square feet of space, according to GSD.

However, the plan to construct a new building could pose challenges, including possibly exacerbating a parking shortage in the area around the Capitol.

These old buildings near the State Capitol are being used as state offices. They could be replaced with a new modern office building. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

During the Capitol Building Planning Commission meeting last week, Legislative Council Service Director Raúl Burciaga acknowledged that it’s already difficult to find a parking spot in the area while the Legislature is in session.

However, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said the issue of parking isn’t a deal-breaker. He floated the idea of creating more underground parking options in the area around the Roundhouse as one way to deal with the parking crunch.

“I think it’s got to go forward – it’s an issue of space at the Capitol,” Egolf said, referring to the office building project. “It’s always better in my view to have people in state-owned buildings than paying rent.”

There’s also the issue of exactly where the new office building would be located.

Previously, top state and legislative officials had settled on a site just west of the Roundhouse, but that plan could have required demolishing several old houses – currently used as excess office space during legislative sessions – and ran into opposition from a Santa Fe city board that oversees historical properties.

That location could still be an option, though other nearby sites could also be considered.

Ortiz said he hopes to get more information on possible locations, parking issues and historical building concerns in the coming months. That would be accomplished by updating a 2000 master plan that included construction of the executive office building among its recommendations.

The updated plan could also examine whether it makes sense to build a new state office building near the Roundhouse or for the state to look into purchasing existing office space in the area.

While some hurdles remain, the project already has a green light when it comes to funding.

Lawmakers passed a bill in 2009 that authorized up to $115 million in bonds to be issued to pay for the new office building. At the time, the project’s price tag was estimated to be $22 million, though that number could go up given the passage of time.

Meanwhile, Egolf said he’d like to see a decision made by the end of this year on how to proceed.

“The need is there, the funding is already provided – it’s ready to go,” he told the Journal.