Task force to decide Walker Library building’s future?

The City Council and Minneapolis Library Board have agreed in principle to create a Walker Community Library Task Force to consider options for the leaky Uptown underground library.

The Library Board votes on creating the task force Wednesday, July 14; the Council will vote Friday, July 23.

The proposed task force will have two City Councilmembers, two Library Board trustees, two representatives appointed by the Council and two representatives appointed by the Board. It will be co-chaired by Mayor R.T. Rybak and Library Board President Gregory Gray.

The task force will study the feasibility of a mixed-use development on the Walker's current 2880 Hennepin Ave. S. site. It will also search for viable alternative locations in Uptown for the library. It will also consider what uses should be in a mixed-use facility and what financing options are appropriate.

Last October, an RSP Architects' report to the Board estimated a mixed-use facility would cost the public $1.5 million. Waterproofing the existing site is estimated to cost about $700,000.

The library system has had money problems; after last year's state cuts in local government aid, Minneapolis libraries slashed operating hours and days of operations.

Supporters of a mixed-use facility say that development could increase the tax base and give the library a sunnier home; those who favor fixing the current building say it is cheaper than building new, and a library in a mixed-use facility would be considerably smaller than the current Walker.

At the City Council's July 1 Ways and Means Committee meeting, Councilmembers tried to reassure Walker patrons that the task force won't consider leaving Uptown without a community library.

Councilmember Dan Niziolek, a mixed-use backer whose 10th Ward includes the library, said, "The commitment here is to a strong Walker Library."

He added that the resolution states that if the task force can't agree on a mixed-use facility by Feb. 28, 2005, the Council will approve funding repairs to the subterranean library's combination roof/parking deck.

Said Niziolek, "At the end of the day, if [the task force] doesn't work, we're going to fix the ramp."

After months of deliberations and study, the Library Board voted in March to spend $440,000 in library referendum bonds to seal the current building, only to have the City Council reject the bond sale two months later. The Council has final approval of spending referendum money.

Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) told Library Board member Diane Hofstede at the July 1 meeting, "We're not trying to hammer you over the head. We are not trying to come in and dictate terms here. We truly want to be a partner."

Hofstede and other Library Board members have expressed frustration that the Council is not letting the Board manage the libraries. "It's very appropriate that the Library Board is in charge of the library; that's why we were elected. That's our mission," Hofstede said.