KQV AM 1410

KQV Editorial

For Sale…The State Office Building…At a Bargain Basement Price!

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     A battle royal has been brewing in Harrisburg and the 52-year-old State Office Building in the Point State Park-Gateway Center area downtown is the focal point of the dispute.  The State Office Building, with its distinctive blue coloration, has been a landmark down through the years.  The state’s Pittsburgh operation has been headquartered there since it was built.


     The argument concerns the state’s proposal to sell the building; with State Auditor General Jack Wagner spearheading the effort to postpone the sale indefinitely.


     It’s Wagner’s contention that this is exactly the wrong time to try to sell the building with the market and the economy so depressed.  Wagner wants to postpone the sale until the economy improves and the real estate market improves as well.


     Wagner also argues that the building is totally undervalued and that the price is unrealistic.  Local developer, the Buncher Corporation, had made an offer of 4.5 million for the property which it has since withdrawn.  New proposals are being solicited and the state meanwhile has set a minimum bid at that level.


     Wagner makes a strong argument that this is totally out of wack with the prices being sought for other buildings in the downtown area.  He cites the fact that the owners of the Clark Building on Liberty Avenue are seeking $31.5 million for that structure.


     He also points out that all of the state employees headquartered in the building would have to be relocated and that extremely costly!


     Countering Wagner’s argument, state officials respond that the building is in need of repair and remodeling and that is a factor that should be considered.  Spokesmen for the state also advance the position that any decision should await the proposals that are scheduled to come in this week.


     We concur with Auditor General Wagner that this is the wrong time to sell the building and there is no reason to believe that the new bids will match what the building is actually worth.


     If we are to believe the investment advice given us by our wise professor in economics 101 which is to buy low…sell high; then, to that end, there is a right time and a wrong time.


     …thus, in our opinion…this is the wrong time!


Robert W. Dickey


KQV Newsradio
March 4, 5, 6, 2009


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Dear Mr. Dickey, I have been listening to your usually on-the-mark (and always delightfully curmudgeonly) editorials for quite a while. I do think you kind of dropped the ball a bit in your latest piece regarding the sale of the State Office Building (SOB for short). As I read the auditor-general's opinion, I don't think he is recommending just holding off on a sale until the price gets better-he is only saying that the low price adds insult to real injury for the taxpayers. If so, I agree with him wholeheartedly. There is no good reason to sell the building. First, there is the public to worry about. The SOB provides a central point for state taxes, birth and death records, ID's and license renewals, a welfare office and plenty of other state services in one easy-to find location. You need only walk into the lobby to read the directory. If the building is sold, these operations will be scattered to the 4 winds, depending on the vagaries of available space. Which brings us to the real probable reason for the sale proposal. Every agency will need to lease expensive office space from private real estate owners. Thus, they become nice plums for the governor and his successors to pass out to politcally connected cronies. It's a way of funnelling public money to friends. There is no way this will cost us less in the long run. Have you ever noticed how, whenever there's an administration change in Harrisburg, a number of state offices that are in leased space suddenly have to be moved to different leased space? It's usually political payback, and the taxpayers are doing the paying. Removing the SOB from the mix will give the governor a much larger bag of goodies to pass out. In short, when is renting better than owning? Incidentally, you might like to go for a walk around town. The SOB was remodeled with an eye to energy efficiency some years ago, and lost that distinctive blue color you refer to. I miss it, too. You might want to do a little research and try and find out what the state is paying for the properties it already leases, and what the cost of new leases for all those agencies would be. In short, the sale should not be postponed--it should be squelched once and for all. It's trick to use our tax money for "gift leases" to the politically connected. PS--In the interests of fairness, I should point out that I am a long time state employee (civil service--merit, not patronage) who does not work in the SOB but who has watched this chicanery for quite a while. As I am covered by the Hatch Act, and don't want retaliation, if you use any of my statements on the air, I would prefer to remain anonymous. I would be honored, however, if you did use any of my suggestions.
-Howard , Greentree

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