Financial hole deepens for underground library’s replacement

Replacing Walker Library could cost $6.5 million

The strained relationships between some Minneapolis Library Board trustees and City Councilmembers might mend as the economics of a mixed-use facility to replace Walker Library become more daunting.

The city's Community Planning and Economic Development agency (CPED), estimates that the new facility's potential budget gap has ballooned from $3.8 million to over $6 million.

City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) has long advocated razing the underground Walker, 2880 Hennepin Ave. S., to construct a new facility combining a first-floor library with three stories of condominiums. However, after a couple of Walker Library task force meetings, Niziolek sounds less sure about building a "grand library" to replace the third-most-used branch in the Minneapolis system.

Said Niziolek, "If we're at $6 million or $6.5 million, that's a gap we can't fill. Then we just fix the roof."

The Library Board voted in March to spend $700,000 to fix the current library's combination roof-parking lot, but the City Council rejected a bond sale in May.

Library Board President Gregory Gray said of Niziolek's statement, "I'm happy to hear that. Obviously, there's a certain part of me and Library Board members who would feel a measure of vindication."

Gray said that although he opposes construction of a mixed-use facility, he's not certain that the CPED numbers are on the mark. He wants the task force, which he co-chairs, to work through the process of asking for developers' bids and analyzing the costs.

Making the project work

The subpar condition of Walker's combination roof and parking lot makes the possibility of severe water damage to the library below, and its collection, a real danger.

Of the $700,000 costs, the Board needed city approval to sell $440,000 worth of voter-approved library referendum bonds to fix the problem -- a proposition the city rejected.

A year ago, RSP Architects estimated a $3.8 million funding gap if the Walker were replaced with a mixed-use facility. The gap would need to be filled by city bonds or some other financing mechanism.

Today, CPED Deputy Director Chuck Lutz says that hole has grown to approximately $6.5 million.

Said Lutz of the burgeoning deficit, "Some of the assumptions [for the mixed-use project] have changed."

He said last year's report was based on a new 12,000-square-foot library, but the task force is now basing assumptions on a 17,000-square-foot facility. Lutz said the size of the project has grown because Library Board task force members -- Gray and trustees Diane Hofstede and Anita Duckor -- presented a strong case that any replacement facility should nearly match the current library's 18,500 square feet.

Lutz said the new assumptions also call for 86 below-ground parking spaces, up from 64 spaces, at a cost of $20,000 per stall.

Further deepening the budget hole: 21, not 32 housing units, as in the original plan. (CPED looked more closely at city zoning restrictions and downsized the number of units. Each unit is projected to generate about $400,000 in revenue.)

Lutz said CPED would present a preliminary strategy at the task force's Thursday, Nov. 18 meeting for ways to bridge the $6.5 million budget gap.

Hofstede, a vocal proponent of fixing the roof, said, "Whether or not you can actually raise over $5 million to provide this really nice library replacement, that's what remains to be seen."

Niziolek said he hasn't given up hopes of constructing a new library that he believes will add vitality to Uptown.

"If the numbers can be whittled down, then I think we can make a project work," he said.

Niziolek said he looks forward to seeing proposals from potential developers so a real-world analysis of costs and benefits can be conducted.

The task force is comprised of co-chairs Mayor R.T. Rybak and Gray, as well as Niziolek, Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), Library Board trustees Hofstede and Duckor, Library Board appointees Helen Spry and Christina Melloh and city appointees Ed Pluimer and Keith Sjoquist.

Hofstede said she expects the task force to make a recommendation to the Library Board and City Council by its March 31 deadline.