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Statehouse beat: Catching up on Capitol Complex plans

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some thoughts on the long-awaited Capitol Complex master plan:

• While the proposal to build as many as six new office buildings on the Capitol grounds sounds ludicrous at first, it begins to make more sense when you consider that in fiscal 2013, the state paid a total of $8.05 million to private landlords to lease office space in Kanawha County.

(Actually, the total amount for leases in Kanawha County was $21.6 million, but that includes leases for warehouse and other non-office space, as well as payments by state agencies to the Department of Administration for office space in state-owned buildings.)

That $8 million a year could underwrite a $200 million-plus bond issue, which would probably cover a good bit of construction.

One of the proposed office buildings would house legislative offices, specifically offices and meeting rooms for the House of Delegates, along with Legislative Services offices. That may become superfluous if plans to renovate Building 3 ever get back on track.

The most recent plan called for moving offices for the state auditor and treasurer's staff into a renovated Building 3, with the House of Delegates moving into space on the first-floor East Wing vacated by the treasurer's office.

Likewise, one of the proposed five-story office buildings would house offices and courtrooms for an Intermediate Court of Appeals, which does not appear likely to become a reality any time soon, particularly with an ongoing drop in caseload for the state Supreme Court.

That gets the plan down to a more realistic number of four new on-campus office buildings.

• The most controversial proposal to implement would probably be the plan to relocate virtually all Capitol Complex parking to three parking buildings on the perimeter of the campus. Parking building locations would be at the current surface lot at Laidley Field, the lot on Washington Street, west of the complex, and a third site east of the complex on Washington Street, going all the way down to Veazey Avenue.

While the master plan rightfully notes that too much of the 55-acre campus is taken up by ugly surface parking lots, it will be a hard sell to convince state employees -- and particularly, legislators and statewide elected officials -- that they will have to park blocks away from the Capitol, and either walk or use shuttle services.

(This is a city where fine restaurants downtown fail because people are reluctant to walk a couple of blocks, while bland chain restaurants on Corridor G thrive thanks to ample door-front parking.)

The plan also calls for tearing down the existing parking building on the northwest corner of campus -- opened in 1999 at a cost of $5.6 million only to undergo $3 million of repairs in 2008 -- to become the site of one of the office buildings.

Keep in mind, though, that this is a 30-year plan, extending to 2043, beyond the 30- to 40-year life expectancy for the parking building.

***

Oddest moment of the week: What was the purpose of Charleston Mayor Danny Jones' press conference regarding Phil Reale's three-month-old and since-dismissed solicitation charge other than to assure that Reale's embarrassment was shared with a larger audience than the Daily Mail's 16,000-some subscribers?

If Jones' concern, rightfully, was that Charleston police had erred in omitting Reale's name from a press release, that matter could have been handled internally, and in fact, Jones said no action will be taken against the officer who made the omission.

I'd heard the Reale rumor back in September, and dismissed it because it seemed at the time to be implausible, and I was suspicious of the motivation behind those spreading the rumor.

The relationship between lobbyists and their prospective clients is not unlike college football coaches and potential recruits; i.e., in talking down the competition in hopes of signing the prospect.

Competition for top lobbying clients can be fierce, and one can be certain there were parties interested in seeing Reale's lapse in judgment widely publicized, in hopes of shaking loose his impressive list of clients, ranging from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association to the West Virginia Press Association.

One wonders if Jones would have had the same zeal in calling a press conference had a prominent Republican lobbyist or former advisor to a Republican governor gotten into trouble.

Certainly don't recall any press conference after Charleston police busted GOP operative Roman Stauffer for DUI this summer, and I think we would all agree drunk driving is a much more serious, and potentially deadly, offense.

***

Finally, just to make things more confusing, the new communications director for Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is Becky Neal. No, not the longtime state Senate aide and current executive aide to the governor Becky Neal.

Fortunately, the new Becky goes by Rebecca. She's a Dunbar native who has previously served as communications director for Congressman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and as press secretary for Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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