A new $30 million library should be built on the site of the current downtown post office, according to a unanimous recommendation by the city's Library Board.
Now, city commissioners must decide whether to put the issue on a ballot for city residents, halt the project or reduce its scope on fears that it is more than the community can afford.
"We haven't decided anything yet," Mayor Mike Amyx said after a Thursday afternoon meeting of the Library Board.
The Library Board has, though. The seven members of the appointed advisory board made a strong recommendation for a project put forward by members of the Fritzel family. Here's what the proposal includes:
¢ A new 94,000-square-foot library - more than twice the size of the current library but about 20,000 square feet less than what library staff members lobbied for - on the current post office site, 645 Vt. That site is immediately north of the current library.
¢ At least 260 underground parking spaces beneath the new library. That would be a significant increase from the amount of parking at the current library, which has about 120 spaces.
¢ Post office services would remain downtown, said Bob Schulte, an executive with the Gene Fritzel Construction Co. He said the post office likely would remain on Vermont Street somewhere near its current location.
¢ The current library site would be used for a new multiuse commercial and residential building or expansion of the nearby Eldridge Hotel. In neither case would the Douglas County Senior Center or the city's adjacent fire station be forced to move from their sites, which are just south of the current library.
¢ The new multiuse building could have up to 500 new parking spaces built beneath it, Schulte said. The parking spaces could be a mix of public and private spaces. How much it would cost the city to acquire the use of some of the new parking spaces, however, hasn't been determined.
¢ In total, the development surrounding the library would take part in the 600, 700 and 800 blocks of Vermont Street on property the Fritzel group owns. It would include up to $110 million in private development during a 10-year period that would add 150,000 square feet of retail space, 100,000 square feet of office space, 130 apartment units, 120 condominiums, at least a 100-room expansion of the Eldridge Hotel and a 39,000-square-foot conference center attached to the hotel.
"We believe the selling point for our project has been that it does the most for downtown Lawrence," Schulte said. "It has the most opportunity to invigorate and keep the downtown strong."
The project does come with at least one major question: Will the U.S. Postal Service leave its longtime downtown location? Postal officials were not at the meeting, and attempts to reach them afterward were unsuccessful.
Schulte, though, said his group has had very positive discussions with post office officials, and that those will accelerate now that the Library Board has made its recommendation.
He said the key to getting post office leaders to move is to provide them a new space that is every bit as good as the current space. He said everyone agrees that downtown must continue to have a post office, although the back-office distribution portion of the post office could move out of downtown.
Library Board members said they thought the proposal provided the best location for a new library because it was near its longtime home and would provide much-needed parking to the northern end of downtown.
"If we can enhance the parking in this area, we will advantage the downtown as a whole," said John Nalbandian, chairman of the Library Board.
Two other private developers submitted proposals. A group led by Jeff Shmalberg and Martin Moore submitted a plan to build the library on the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets, adjacent to the Lawrence Arts Center. Another group led by Doug Compton proposed a library for the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. A proposal to build the library on the current site also was prepared by a city-hired consultant.
Developers submitted cost estimates for the project that ranged from about $25 million to $30 million. But Library Board members decided to disregard those cost estimates because many details of the designs still must be determined.
Instead, the board decided to assume that the cost of library and parking construction would be $30 million on any of the sites.
One significant difference between the Fritzel proposal and the proposals by the two other private developers is that the city loses control of the current library site under the Fritzel plan.
The other developers had given the city the option of keeping that site for future city use. The site has been valued at anywhere from $3 million to $5 million.
Amyx was the only city commissioner who attended the Library Board meeting. He said he wasn't going to offer any opinion on the Fritzel plan until he had more time to review it. But he did say the city will have to have a serious discussion about how it would pay for a new library. Possible sources could be a new sales tax or a property tax.
In either case, the issue ultimately will be decided by voters. Commissioners have said they are committed to putting the project on a citywide ballot.
When that will happen, though, is unclear. Amyx had once suggested the April 2007 ballot, but said he was uncertain whether the city would have enough time to work out all the details.
"Look at all the work that needs to happen between now and then," Amyx said.
Nalbandian said he also thought an April election might be too soon. He noted that the Fritzel project, unlike the others, did not provide a specific design for the library. That likely would have to happen before it could be presented to voters.
Amyx said he wants city commissioners to discuss the issue at their Dec. 19 meeting.
- 6News Video: The Lawrence Library Board of Trustees endorses plan to expand
- Scaled-back plans for public library unveiled to city (11-18-06)
- Mayor favors current library site (11-15-06)
- Public should weigh in on new library, mayor says (11-11-06)
- Long story short: Grand vision for public library scaled way back (10-22-06)