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GOP objects to cost of governor's temporary home

The state will pay $17,000 per month to rent temporary quarters while Governor's Residence is going through major mechanical overhaul.

ST PAUL, Minn. — You'll find little argument that the historic Minnesota Governor's Residence needs a major overhaul for both preservation and safety reasons. But there's a new kerfuffle at the State Capitol over the price the state is paying to lease temporary quarters while the mansion is being brought up to code.

The Minnesota Dept. of Administration, charged with the task of managing state-owned buildings, has leased a home in Sunfish Lake to serve as the stand in for the executive mansion, at a price of $314,000. Given the lease runs for 18 months and five days, the monthly rent comes to $17,250 per month.

Rep. Paul Novotny, an Elk River Republican, said the Dept. of Admin should've tried harder to find a less expensive pad for the governor.

"Sticker shock. Tone Deaf. For the Marie Antoinette reference, 'Let them eat cake'," Rep. Novotny told KARE Wednesday.

"I realize state statute says the governor needs to have a place they can hold official receptions, but nowhere does it say they have to be able to hold massive receptions."

Rep. Novotny said a brief Google search turned up locations in St. Paul that would work just as well for far less. Republicans are expected to offer an amendment to the omnibus State Government bill that would place a cap on how much the state can pay to rent living quarters for the governor.

When asked about it Wednesday, Gov. Walz said he's not going to second guess the judgment of the team that came up with the temporary housing solution.

"There's a team of folks that put together what needs to be done with that," Walz told reporters.

"I trust the folks that make these decisions over what it takes to operate the Governor's Residence so you can do the job of governor. Of all things I'm dealing with I'm pretty agnostic where I lay my head down."

The home in Sunfish Lake is owned by Mike McFadden, the Twin Cities business executive who ran as the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 2014.  The Dept. of  Administration team selected the site for a combination of reasons, including the potential for the governor's security team to control access to the property.

Curt Yoakum, the assistant commissioner of the Dept. of Administration, issued this statement to KARE: 

"Proximity and the ability to provide security for the property and the occupants were decisive factors in the search and decision for a temporary residence while the century-old Residence undergoes extensive renovations. The Department of Administration consulted with real estate and executive housing professionals to explore options on the market that could meet both operational and security needs as well as proximity. There were very limited options with our criteria available during the necessary time period. The current lease was negotiated with the owner with a rate of return based on market value and the limited comparable rates available on potential properties."

The Governor's Residence was built on Summit Avenue in St. Paul between 1910 and 1912 and was donated to the state for use as an executive mansion in 1965. It's currently operated by the Minnesota State Historical Society and the Dept. of Administration.

Governors throughout the years have hosted dignitaries and leaders from other states and nations at the mansion. It has also served as the site of late-session budget negotiations between House and Senate leaders.

The overhaul of the English Tudor style home will include upgrades in plumbing, mechanical, security, interior finishes as well repairs to the foundation and exterior site drainage.

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