October 25, 2014

Powerful Partnerships: Mixed-Use Development | Library by Design

By Marta Murvosh

A branch library in Portland, OR, is considered to be part of the first public-private housing partnership. Since it opened, other libraries nationwide have entered into similar arrangements, with lessons learned for ­libraries.

This partnership between a library and a developer resulted in the Hollywood Library, a small retail space occupied by a coffee shop, and the medium- and low-income Bookmark Apartments in Portland on land owned by Multnomah County Library (MCL), says Michael T. Harrington, library facilities and operations manager. Starting in 1999, the library system studied the feasibility of mixing library, retail, and housing environments. The building opened in 2002.

MCL then worked with a development consultant to issue a Request for Proposals for the building. Sockeye Development, LLC, a subsidiary of developer Shiels Obletz Johnsen, received the contract and manages the apartments and the coffee shop lease. The library system then embarked on other mixed-use partnerships, including Sellwood Library.

“It’s one of our busiest branches,” says Harrington of Hollywood. “It would have been nice to have more space.”

Cities with redevelopment agencies and strong nonprofit housing authorities tend to be where many of these partnerships occur.

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Mission Bay Branch l San Francisco Public Library

Another example of a library in a mixed-use development is Mission Bay, Honorable Mention for LJs 2011 New Landmark Libraries, and its partner Mission Creek Senior Housing in San Francisco. Architect Bruce Prescott helped ensure the library and the nonprofit housing developer shared “real partnership and not just a land exchange” by designing a space that would be welcoming to all ages, especially seniors, says Mindy Linetzky, who oversaw the library’s $106 million bond measure to construct or renovate 24 libraries for the Department of Public Works City and County of San Francisco.


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Burien Library l King County Library System l WA

King County Library System (KCLS), LJ’s 2011 Library of the Year, has extensive experience with partnering with different organizations and guiding other libraries. KCLS has partnered with developers, nonprofits, and municipal governments to build or lease libraries, including mixed-use facilities. KCLS partnered with Burien City to build a combined city hall and library on municipal land. The building opened in 2009, but construction required compromise. The municipal government wanted the library to occupy two floors of a three-story civic building with the “presence” of a “dominant agency,” says Greg Smith, KCLS director of facilities management services. The library prefers single-story structures because they cost less to staff; however, the joint venture saved both partners money. The partnership brought the city a state grant to pay for a parking garage, Smith says.

The library’s legal agreement came in handy when a change in city leadership led to a request to pay a smaller share of the maintenance costs, says Kay Johnson, KCLS director of facilities development. Since opening, the library has attracted people to downtown Burien, where they can enjoy a park and other amenities. “We have a good building, and it’s a good way to spend public funds,” Smith says. “It’s a gathering place.”

When plans to build the Newcastle Library as part of a mixed-use development of condos and commercial building on KCLS-owned land stalled, victim of the developer’s inability to get financing during the recession, KCLS decided to construct a stand-alone library, expected to open this summer, Smith says. The process involved revisiting the agreement with the developer, which has a two-year deadline to obtain financing that expires this year, allowing KCLS to look for another partner, if necessary. “We spent quite a bit of money on attorney fees,” Smith says. “It was the lengthy process to get the library built, and it had to be redesigned.”

Lesson learned, KCLS changed its approach with another library-housing partnership for its proposed Renton Highlands branch, Smith says. This project is proceeding. “We’re kind of waiting to see how that plays out,” Smith says. “We’re designing the building so that if we need to we can pull out and build it by itself.”


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Villard Square Branch l Milwaukee Public Library

Milwaukee Public Library (MPL) owns land in prime locations, lending bargaining power when it came to finding a partner for a building that combines housing with a replacement for the Villard Square Branch. It also opened the door to innovative programs such as laptop checkout and roving reference.

“They were astute enough to recognize that their libraries were on pretty valuable land,” says Joe Huberty, a partner at Engberg Anderson, an architectural, planning, and design firm with offices in Milwaukee. Additionally, Director Paula Kiely had positioned MPL as an innovative player in the community that actively helps people enrich their daily lives, Huberty adds.

The library and apartments geared toward grandparents raising their grandchildren opened last October. The project reduced costs for both the library and developer, which received tax credits, Kiely says.

At 12,770 square feet, the new library is smaller than the 15,000 square foot building the project replaced, but it feels larger, in part because of huge windows and the flexibility built into the design, Kiely says. The meeting room, for example, is divided by sliding glass panels so it never feels cut off from the rest of the library. The room doubles as a reading area or a teen study space.

The exterior windows entice community members to visit as they walk or drive past, Kiely says. Moving to a new building offered the opportunity to install radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology and self-check, pilot roving reference for the entire library system, and 40 laptops for in-library checkout. “People want to use computers where they are comfortable, not necessarily next to someone,” she says. Year-to-date figures for this February indicate that library visits were up 126 percent, and circulation rose by 108 percent.


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