MARION — For years, Marion officials have talked about a re-envisioned library, large enough to accommodate about 900,000 materials in its collection and the city’s fast-growing population. Now, library and city officials appear to be on the same page for how to do that: knock down the Marion Square strip mall and build a new mixed-use complex at the site that includes a roughly $12 million, 45,000-square-foot library.
The cost of the entire complex, which would include 10,000 square feet of retail space and 75 rental units above the first floor, would be more than $24 million, said Marion City Manager Lon Pluckhahn.
The current library building, 1095 Sixth Ave., was built in 1996 and measures 24,500 square feet. Many in the Linn County community feel a new library is unnecessary, but city and library officials say the current facility is too small, not built for today’s technology and has a poor layout. They favor an open floor plan and a space that can serve a population that has grown significantly since 1996. Pluckhahn said the current library was built assuming a projected 30-year growth, but those estimates were surpassed in 2008.
According to U.S. Census figures, Marion’s population was just more than 20,000 in 1990. It grew to more than 26,000 by 2000 and nearly 35,000 by 2010. The most recent figures put the population at more than 37,000 people.
The Marion Library board of trustees has partnered with Minneapolis-based developer Ryan Cos. to try to identify a location for the new space since 2014. Pluckhahn said city officials waited to back the proposal until the developer could identify a location in Uptown Marion and provide cost estimates for the library portion of the plan.
Ryan Cos. is in negotiations to purchase the strip mall from Noddle Cos., a Nebraska developer, Pluckhahn said, adding he hopes to present a financial proposal for the project to the Marion City Council by the end of February.
Officials from Ryan Cos. could not immediately be reached for comment.
Library Director Elsworth Carman said the library board sees the block between Sixth and Seventh avenues, bordered by 11th and 12th streets, as an ideal location because it’s close to the current library and next to City Square Park.
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“The benefits ... are being able to stay in Uptown, being able to contribute to the vibrancy of the area,” Carman said. “We’ll have more library programs that bring the outside in, or go outside.”
With an open design concept, the floor plan could easily change when necessary and staffing could remain steady despite nearly twice as much square footage.
“Our processing spaces were designed to process a collection maybe a quarter of what we have,” Carman said of the existing library. “We need a lot of staff per square foot to run this building. There are a lot of nooks and crannies. By making it as open as possible and lowering the shelf height, we can operate on about the same number of staff as we have here.”
FUNDING AND PARKING
In the financial proposal, Pluckhahn said he plans to recommend the city apply for a $10 million tax-exempt bond from the state. The Library Foundation would be responsible for paying the debt over five to 10 years while the city leases the building from the foundation.
Additional funding would come from the sale of the existing library. City officials have asked for proposals from companies interested in leasing or buying the library, but have not yet received any. The structure is appraised at about $2.6 million.
Officials also are considering parking as part of a plan to build a new library. Pluckhahn said the number of spaces in the new plan remains about the same as the existing number of spaces.
In 2009, the city began purchasing all but one building on the block just south of the strip mall. Almost half that block is currently used as library parking. The rest of the block could serve as parking or a plan B location for the new mixed-use space, Pluckhahn said. He said the city is also considering converting parking spots along Seventh Avenue from parallel to angled spaces.
Ryan Cos. is also considering an underground parking ramp for residents in the rental units so visitor and tenant parking would not mix, Pluckhahn added. He said he does expect the developer to ask the city for financial help in building such a garage, and local-option sales tax from the retail spaces in the building would finance that project.
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BUSINESS OWNERS WARY
Business owners in the strip mall are not thrilled that their building may be torn down.
Mark Boies, owner of MJ’s Restaurant in Marion Square, said he fears the businesses in the strip mall can’t afford to move. If they do open in a new location, it likely won’t be in such a heavily trafficked area, he said.
“My plan was to open a new location if they help me financially,” Boies said. “I have all my money invested in this location. If we move, I’m estimating a $150,000 to $175,000 loss to set back up. My challenge right now is deciding if it’s going to be worth it or not.”
Joan Ackerman, owner of Village Needlework, is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“At this point, everything is on hold,” she said.
Pluckhahn said the city will work with businesses to provide tax incentives if owners open in new locations. He urged them not to make decisions too quickly.
“The fact that we’re involved is actually an advantage because ... we have a stake in making sure those businesses are treated fairly,” he said. “Until Ryan actually pulls the trigger, they’re still tenants of their existing landlord. Don’t move too fast because if something on this happens and it doesn’t work, the last thing you want to do is break a lease with your out-of-state landlord.”
In the meantime, Carman said library staff and customers are excited about the prospect of a new building.
“We’re coming up with a library Marion deserves and needs,” he said.
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