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Marion library leaders plan to move quickly on new building

Project that has been years in the making appears to finally be on track

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)

MARION — After years of starts and stops, Marion Public Library leaders expect to move quickly on preparation for its new $18 million building in the coming months now that a new site has been selected.

Earlier this week, the library’s board of trustees finally settled on a location — a block of land between the existing facility at 1095 Sixth Ave. and Marion City Hall. That lot, known as the Katz lot, was previously donated to the city for library use and includes a parking lot and two historic brick houses that will be moved.

“We’ve already established ourselves as a part of this community in this neighborhood and this district,” said Hollie Trenary, library director. “ ... We have a high traffic count that comes through our doors every day. And I am of the belief that that traffic count contributes to uptown.”

Although there’s never been a study done on how library traffic affects local businesses, Uptown Marion Director Brooke Prouty said the library is an anchor in the area and is “unarguably one of the top trip generators in our district.”

City and library leaders will soon put together a steering committee, and during the August library board meeting Trenary hopes to finalize the contract for Milwaukee-based Engberg Anderson Architects, a company that previously worked with the library. She also hopes to put out a request for qualifications from contractors by mid-August and select one sometime in September.

“I’m looking at the month of September, kind of being our hot month, where things come together,” Trenary said.

Earlier this year, project leaders abandoned a roughly 6-year-old plan to move into a future mixed-use building on the site of the current Marion Square Plaza strip mall.

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At the time, city manager Lon Pluckhahn cited a number of financial challenges for scrapping that project, including the state’s lease-purchase law. Now local governments are required to bid out projects rather than just choose a contractor that might fit the project well.

As a result, the library’s portion of the mixed-use building on the strip mall site would’ve had to be bid out separately from the privately owned portion. Ryan Companies was previously tapped for the mixed-use building, but this time around, the request for qualifications will be open to all bidders.

In June, the library received a resolution of support from the Marion City Council to construct a new, free-standing, 52,000-square-foot facility in the uptown area. Funding possibilities include $5 million in a local-option sales tax, $3 million from the sale of the current building, and $1 million in tax increment financing.

Typically, municipalities hand out tax increment financing as a benefit to encourage private development in a particular district, freezing property taxes for a period of time. When it comes to municipal projects that can benefit an entire district like sewer lines or, in the library’s case, public restrooms, the city can draw against the larger district tax increment financing itself, which builds value over time, Pluckhahn said.

The library is also undergoing a feasibility study to see how much it could potentially raise in private donations. Trenary said project leaders are hoping for between $3 million and 5 million.

At most, Trenary said, the city would be responsible for $6 million but hoped it would be less.

“What I do know is that we absolutely will not go over $18 million. That is our worst-case scenario dollar amount, and I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to come in under, and any amount we’re able to come in under there offsets what we’ll be asking from the city,” she said.

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

Take a look back at The Gazette’s past coverage:

• October 2016: Marion abandons the idea of tearing down the old library and building a new one on the same site, instead seeing it as part of a mixed-use development.

• February 2017: Marion library and city officials get on the same page for Marion Square Plaza redevelopment to include new library.

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• February 2017: Marion community members have differing views where to put the new library.

• July 2017: Purchase negotiations for Marion Square Plaza take longer than expected.

• June 2018: Marion’s initial view is that a new state law could make building in a multiuse development more challenging than expected.

• November 2018: What the multiuse/library project means for existing businesses in Marion Square Plaza.

• April 2019: Marion library won’t relocate to strip mall site.

• June 2019: Marion City Council supports new direction for library.

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