MARION

Marion library won't relocate to strip mall site

Plans for mixed-use development being scrapped, next steps to be determined

The Marion Public Library in Marion, Iowa, on Monday, April 8, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
The Marion Public Library in Marion, Iowa, on Monday, April 8, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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MARION — The Marion Public Library is back on page one when it comes to determining its next move for either expanding or relocating the library.

City and library leaders this week decided to scrap a plan to move the library into part of a yet-to-be-built mixed-use building on the site currently occupied by strip mall Marion Square Plaza.

Under that plan, the library would have shared the building with private development. Hollie Trenary, the library’s director who was hired last year, said the financing won’t work for that space, despite about a five- or six-year effort to plan that particular move.

“From our perspective this is just another step in our journey and our story,” Trenary said. “I felt relief. And I would say that I think that’s a resounding message from our staff, our board. We’ve been waiting on just sort of that final go or no-go for this project for a while.”

Now, city and library leaders must determine what’s next for the cramped library, which was constructed in 1996. While staff are making the best of the building’s 24,000 square feet, a needs assessment done in January shows the library needs more than double that space — about 52,000 square feet.

The library’s board put together multiple options to either expand or move the library about 10 years ago, but those plans were set aside when the mixed-use building became a possibility. Trenary said now the board will dust off those old options to determine what’s next.

“We are better for the time that we have spent learning about this opportunity,” Trenary said. “We have more information. We’ve had the opportunity to hear the feedback from the community. We have learned about what changes in legislation can do to us, those types of things.”

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Marion City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said a number of different financing challenges contributed to the decision, including Iowa’s new lease-purchase law. The law, which was signed last April, requires local governments to bid out projects rather than finding the contractor that has the best grasp or capabilities, Pluckhahn said.

This means that in the mixed-use project, the city would have to bid out its piece for the library separately from the private developer’s remaining portion of the building. Pluckhahn said this would result in two different plumbers or electricians, for example, working on the building, which gets even more complicated in common-use areas.

The Marion City Council has called a special meeting at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday at Marion City Hall, 1225 Sixth Ave., to discuss the library.

Renovating the current building would be extremely difficult, Trenary said. She said many of the utilities, heating and telecommunications structures are buried under the concrete beneath the building.

What Trenary believes to be the most likely option for the library is constructing a new building on the property between Marion City Hall and the current library. That lot was purchased years ago by the library foundation and donated to the city for library use — it’s currently serves as a parking lot for the library.

Although the library’s future location may change, Trenary said she doesn’t believe the timeline will be pushed back. She still believes the library will remain in its current location for another three to five years.

A representative of Genesis Equities, the company that bought Marion Square Plaza, didn’t immediately response to a request for an interview Friday. Pluckhahn said he believes the developers do have a another plan if the library backs out.

The five businesses remaining in the strip mall are likely still out of luck. Now mostly vacant, leases still are held by MJ’s Restaurant, Tomaso’s Pizza, China King, Weland Clinical Laboratories and Village Needlework, though for a limited time.

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Steve Ackerman, part-owner of Village Needlework, said the business’ lease is up in October and he hasn’t decided what’s next. He said the business has been there eight years, and the parking and handicap access for their elderly customers were appealing.

The other four businesses either declined to comment or didn’t have an owner or manager immediately available.

“We’re all just kind of frustrated that they destroyed the little mall here,” Ackerman said, adding that fortunately he hasn’t seen customers decrease as businesses moved because his business is for a niche audience. “It’s been years since it’s been up in the air.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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