Say a cash-strapped state like Mississippi had an opportunity to save tens of millions of dollars on office space in the coming decades while injecting new economic life into its capital city. How fast would you give the idea a thumbs-up – or at least an in-depth ?
State Sen. David Blount wants the state to initiate a phased-in consolidation of much of the state’s far-flung agency offices into the Capitol Complex, which is essentially downtown Jackson up to Lakeland Drive and the University of Mississippi Medical Center and across State Street to behind Memorial Stadium and back across the railroad tracks to Pascagoula Street. Sen. Blount’s proposals should not be a tough sell for elected policy-setters who start each legislative session with a call to do more with less. But be assured it’s much easier for legislators to talk about efficient spending than to actually do it.
In this instance, the best hope for the office consolidation bills to receive thorough consideration is for leaders at the Capitol to drop the provincialism that has killed fiscally sound ideas in the past.
To support his bills, Blount produced an analysis from Millsaps College’s Else School of Management that shows consolidating more than 400,000 square feet of state offices that are scattered around the tri-county area into the Capitol Complex would save the state $5 million a year. Another $30 million could be saved over two decades through another key part of Sen. Blount’s plan.
The Millsaps’ study gave the senators on hand for a Public Properties Committee meeting last week plenty to ponder. The prospect of putting $5 million annually back into state coffers was obviously an attention getter, as was the idea of a further savings of the $30 million outlined in the plan. But senators perhaps were even more attentive to the Millsaps’ finding that the state is tossing money away on lots of unneeded office space.
The federal government standard for rentable space per office worker is 218 square feet. Mississippi’s average is 323 square feet.
Just meeting the federal benchmark would shave 33 percent from the state’s yearly leasing costs, giving the $5 million savings the Millsaps’ study projects.
A key part of Sen. Blount’s consolidation plan is the state purchase of the fully vacant 300,000-square-foot Landmark Center. Downtown Jackson’s office market slump has caused the former regional headquarters of AT&T to land in the bargain bin at a price of $7.6 million, down from $14.1 million just 12 months ago.
Sen. Blount and many others in the Legislature want to end the long-term Raymond exile of the Mississippi Department of Revenue. They see the Landmark Center as the most suitable home for the DOR in all of metro Jackson. An extensive site selection study by international real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield in 2011 reached the same conclusion.
Authors of the Millsaps’ study project that putting the DOR into around 220,000 square feet of the Landmark and other state office users into the remaining space would save the state $30 million over the 20-year life of the loan to purchase the East Capitol Street property.
Legislation to lease the Landmark as the new DOR home cleared the Senate 52-0 last year. The House never got to vote on the relocation bill after House Speaker Phillip Gunn made it known he wanted the 500-employee agency to stay in Raymond, a community near his hometown of Clinton, for the time being.
Speaker Gunn says he won’t kabash the move this time around. But they’ll be opportunities for legislators in Jackson’s tri-county metro area to try their hand at preventing votes on the bill.
Ironically, the job of keeping downtown Jackson alive while putting tens of millions of dollars back into state coffers could fall on rank-and-file lawmakers from far outside metro Jackson.
They have got less reason to be provincial in this instance and a big reason to want to save both huge dollars and their Capital City.
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