Deadline ignored

Task force can't decide what to do with Walker Library

A joint city-Library Board task force missed a Feb. 28 deadline for recommending whether to repair the Walker Library, 2880 Hennepin Ave. S., or replace it with a mixed-use building.

The City Council and Library Board mandated the deadline so the unerground library's parking deck could be repaired this summer. However, a decision was postponed to at least April 1.

The task force now awaits a city-library staff report on whether $700,000 in repairs to the underground Walker's cracked parking deck can wait.

All four developers submitted proposals at a Feb. 23 task force meeting that said a mixed-use building must be taller than the area's four-story zoning limit.

The developers and their proposals are:

Greco Real Estate Development: a five-story building, with four condo levels and an unspecified number of units.

Legacy Management & Development Corp.: A five-story facility with 26 one-bedroom and 26 two-bedroom apartments. Forty percent of the units would be affordable at unspecified income levels.

Central Community Housing Trust: a five-story, 66-unit mixed-income complex. Half the units would be affordable to renters making 30-60 percent of the area median income.

Lander Group: an eight-story building featuring 44 loft-style condos.

Mayor R.T. Rybak, a task force co-chair, said he thinks a four-story structure isn't economically viable but wants more public input before upping the height limit.

"We now know that [a mixed-use building] can't be done under the current zoning. It could be done if you had a taller building, but that decision should not be made without a very thorough and deliberate conversation with the neighborhood about whether that trade-off is worth it."

All the developers struggled to identify funding sources. Each relied on optimistic projections for Neighborhood Revitalization Program funding and contributions from other cash-strapped institutions.

Library Trustee and task force member Diane Hofstede, a vocal supporter of fixing the Walker's roof, said, "Each proposal had some major [funding] problems in them. There would need to be some work done before you could even consider them."

Former City Councilmember and longtime Walker advocate Pat Scott said she's very frustrated that the task force couldn't make a decision by the deadline.

"The inability of the task force to accept that it had timing parameters puts the future of Walker Library in serious doubt," Scott said. "The library system can't handle an additional development at this time since they are beginning the total renovation of two large libraries."

The North Regional and Eask Lake branches are undergoing major renovations.

Library Board President and task force co-chair Rod Krueger said the task force could wait a month to get better data on deck repairs.

"We're just trying to clarify if there is a sense of urgency to get this parking deck fixed right away. If there is, what I think the recommendation would be is to get the parking deck fixed and do a more long-term proper study of mixed-use on that block," he said.

Alex Wakal, who retired last year after 25 years as superintendent of library buildings and grounds, said short-term fixes could forestall major repairs for an indeterminate time. However, he said that judging the risk to the building and its books is difficult because several feet of dirt and concrete cover the rubber membrane.

The Walker task force has no scheduled next meeting, but members said they expect it sometime after April 1.