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Marion library board wants to move ahead on mixed-use project

By Lissandra Villa, The Gazette | July 4, 2015 |

MARION — It could be change again, as soon as next spring, for the Marion Public Library when a new building could be under construction, officials said.

The Marion Public Library Board of Trustees hopes to tear down the existing library and build a new mixed-use facility that would include retail and residential components in addition to a library.

The city would own the land, but a developer, Minneapolis-based Ryan Companies, would own the new building, said Doug Raber, library director. In this plan, the city would lease the library space.

“We want to make sure the facility is a destination, that it draws people to uptown Marion,” Raber said.

The intent of the residential and retail components — the latter ideally a grocery store, Raber said — would be to make the building profitable for the developer and taxable by the city. In addition, Ryan Companies would buy the existing library site.

This Monday, the board will receive a final recommendation for an architect from the building committee during a special meeting, Raber said.

The current building opened in 1996. But since then, the Marion population has grown, and the crowdedness often felt in the library reflects that.

“Children and young adults are going to be a major feature,” Raber said about the library. “There are young families with children who live here.”

The 2010 census showed about 30 percent of the Marion population was under 20 years of age, Raber said. The city will undertake a special census in the next year to update those numbers.

After an architect recommendation is made, Raber said a lot more of the details could be worked out, particularly with respect to cost.

This week, a community survey was posted on the Marion city website seeking ideas on what the new library might need.


But not everyone is on board with a new facility.

“My basic objection is so much of this has happened, and the public doesn’t know about it,” said Councilmember Mary Lou Pazour. “They’re putting the cart before the horse.”

She said one of her concerns is that parking has not been addressed.

The existing library has 104 parking spots plus five handicap spots, Raber said. He added there are 34 street parking spots nearby.

Raber said the goal in the new project would be to keep convenient and free parking, but that the solutions have not yet been found.

Inside the existing building, Katy Krumbholz, a part-time library assistant, said, “Oftentimes we can’t accommodate the large numbers. With kids running around, it can be tricky.”

The existing structure is 24,500 square feet, and Raber said a 47,000-square-foot building is needed, based on what he calls “peer cities.”

In fiscal year 2014, the total circulation for the Marion library was 803,882. The number of visits was 318,458.

To accomplish the project as described, 11th Street would need to be closed off, Raber explained. It would require use of the block the library sits on and the block across the street that holds the library’s parking lot, ABC Connection Day Care, a community garden and a couple other buildings.

But the closing of 11th Street is a move the Marion City Council may be willing to move forward, but only for an expansion and not a mixed-use project, Marion Mayor Allen “Snooks” Bouska said.

Bouska said he thought believed the council would lean toward expanding the existing library or opening a satellite location and retaining the existing building. He said he opposes the project and called the cost of it a moving target.

Because a library levy was defeated in 2013, he said, people in support of this project are “wary” of having the public have a direct say on the new proposal.

“We have not had enough input from the library board to know whether we like what they’re proposing,” Council member Joe Spinks added.

Spinks said he dislikes the idea of closing off 11th Street because he prefers the way it leads to the park — but that does not necessarily mean he is opposed to the project itself.

When a local-option sales tax was approved by voters in 2013, it called for 30 percent of the revenue to be put toward “community projects consisting of any general or essential corporate purpose.”

The LOST Spending Plan devotes $5,040,000 for a library expansion, City Manager Pluckhahn said.

According to a document made available by the library director, the library part of the project is expected to cost $12 million.

The total cost of the mixed-use project is anticipated to be $28 million, said Brad Thomason, division manager for Ryan Companies.

The same document the library director shared said the city would need to contribute $10 million, but a capital campaign could reduce the cost to the city.

The city has acquired some of the properties on the 1100 block of Sixth Avenue as they have become available in the past couple years, said Tom Treharne, planning and development director for Marion.

Raber said Ryan Companies will be negotiating with other buildings on the block to see if buying more properties is an option, but Thomason said no one has moved forward on that.

Kathy Lovell, a co-owner of ABC Connection Day Care, said someone on the library board reached out to her toward the end of last year to see if Lovell and her co-owner might be interested in selling the building. Since then, Lovell said she has not heard anything officially.

No contract yet

In 2013, an increase in the library levy was put to a public vote. The ballot asked whether the city should authorize a levy of 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for the Marion Public Library.

The money would have gone toward operating costs of the existing building, rather than new construction. It was defeated, but the library still has its permanent levy of 4 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, Raber and Pluckhahn said.

Raber said there is nothing for the public to vote on for the project to move forward.

Thomason said there is no pressure to move quickly on this project, but ideally construction would begin in May 2016.

“We don’t have a contract in place. We’re still working on the agreement,” Thomason said.

While officials called this design concept “unique,” mixed-used facilities are not unprecedented. The Madison and Milwaukee public libraries each have several branches in mixed-use facilities. Alice Oakey, supervisor of Meadowridge Library in Madison, said that library, located in a strip mall, shares a space with a neighborhood center.

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