MARION — The Marion City Council has a chance to weigh in later this month on plans for a new public library space but officials, council members and business owners continue to have differing views.
A financial proposal for a new library will be presented during a Feb. 21 council work session.
The total cost of a mixed-use project including a new library, 75 rental units and retail stores is estimated at more than $24 million. The Ryan Companies estimates the cost of the library alone at about $12.3 million, said Lydia Brown, director of development for Ryan.
The proposal comes after the city and library board partnered with the Minneapolis-based developer to try to identify a location for the new, larger space. City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said city officials waited to back the proposal until the developer could identify a location in Uptown Marion and provide reasonable cost estimates for the library portion.
The Marion Square strip mall has emerged as the preferred location for the new building, after the existing mall is torn down. The next step is securing a financial plan for a new library, Pluckhahn said.
The idea for a new library came out of a 2009 survey that went to more than 5,000 Marion residents. The study, called Imagin8, sought to identify the eight most popular ideas for enhancing Marion’s quality of life. Out of 1,800 responses, Pluckhahn said, an expanded library was the second most-mentioned.
In 2013, voters extended a local-option sales tax. Almost $5.1 million from the sales tax was allotted for a library expansion at that time.
Since the fall of 2016, Brown said the Ryan Companies has been in negotiations to purchase the Marion Square strip mall from the Noddle Companies of Nebraska.
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But before a purchase can be finalized, the council must approve the financial proposal for the library portion of the project. The council could also deny it or ask for changes to be made.
The financial proposal will include plans for:
-- The Marion Public Library Foundation to apply for a $10 million bond from the Iowa Finance Authority.
-- Potential payments for selling or leasing out the current 24,000-square-foot library building. The city has yet to receive a proposal from someone interested in the building, Pluckhahn said.
-- The city to lease the building from the library foundation with the $5 million in already paid local-option sales tax.
“The goal on this would be to have a new facility but have the cost neutral,” Pluckhahn said. “The real wild card is what we potentially get from the existing library.”
The library also is expected to kick off a fundraising drive.
However, some officials and residents are unconvinced a new library is needed and are concerned for merchants in Marion Square.
Council member Mary Lou Pazour said she wouldn’t support the plan until convinced an addition couldn’t be made to the current library. Pluckhahn has said an addition would be “extremely cost prohibitive.”
Council member Joe Spinks said a larger library is needed.
“The city has the opportunity to lease it out and make money off it” through taxes on retail and rental space, he said.
Council member Will Brandt said he sees the plan as viable.
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But Brandt, Spinks and Pazour said their primary concern is for the business owners in the Marion Square mall.
Business owners have asked why Ryan Companies wants to eliminate their storefronts only to add 8,000 to 10,000 square feet of new retail space.
Brown said rent in the proposed new retail space would be higher than what owners pay now in Marion Square, so rent payment may not be feasible for the current business owners.
If Ryan acquires the building, Brown said, it would help tenants find other storefronts in Marion. Pluckhahn said the city could also work with owners on getting tax increment financing.
A goal of the proposed mixed-use space, he said, is to have more residents living in Uptown Marion to support businesses, which he believes leads to more tax revenues.
“To have a long-term viable and good business climate, you can’t just depend on people to drive there,” he said. “It’s hard to convey to people we’re moving from that suburban feel to the urban feel. It’s really not about pushing everything to be bright and new and shiny. It’s long-term; what’s going to anchor and secure the businesses?”
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