Fund-raising shortfall may delay Central Library features

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September 22, 2003 // UPDATED 11:04 am - April 30, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Though optimistic, library planners assemble items to hold

Fund-raisers for the new Downtown Central Library acknowledge they are less than halfway to the $8 million goal they set for the end of November, which might imperil some amenities for the $140 million project.

While taxpayers are providing $125 million for the library, its construction budget also relies on $15 million of private funds. The $8 million November goal is one milestone; with five weeks to go, contributions are $3.7 million.

Colin Hamilton, executive director of the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library, called the $4.3 million gap "pretty significant," but remains optimistic about meeting the goal.

"It's certainly a challenge, but it's possible," he said.

Penny Winton, another campaign fund-raiser, said she's not hearing a lot of people say "no"; instead they are telling her, "not now."

Still, the committee shepherding the new library's construction is preparing for a fund-raising shortfall. The Central Library Implementation Committee approved $6.1 million in possible project deferrals Sept. 9. The list includes amenities the public might notice, including "Children's library special features" ($144,000), four fireplaces ($100,000 total), public art ($680,000), Teen Central ($130,000) and the entire build-out of the Athenaeum and special collections ($475,000). Behind-the-scenes items include leaving the fourth floor staff area unfinished, which would save about $1.8 million, and holding off on a $350,000 material sorter.

Minneapolis Public Library Director Kit Hadley said some items might be leased instead of purchased. That would save construction costs, but lease payments would increase operating expenses in future years.

According to the deferral list, decisions on the special collections and teen center must be made in September. The list calls for November decisions on the material sorter, fireplaces, children's library features and public art.

Competition tough

Central Library fund-raisers say they face challenges courting donors in the business community.

Many potential donors have already made financial commitments to the new riverfront Guthrie and the Walker Art Center expansion, Library Campaign Manager and Consultant Randi Yoder told the Library Implementation Committee.

The weak economy has also clouded the fund-raising climate in recent months.

Winton said she's optimistic the campaign will meet its targets. "I still think there's a really deep affection for the library," she said.

Hadley said she's confident the public won't be shortchanged when the library opens in 2006.

She said the old library building, constructed without private dollars, didn't serve the city. "The library has to be more than a public building," she said. "It needs to be an architectural asset to the community."

To raise the library system's public profile Hadley has reorganized staff.

A key part of the reorganization is a new Community Partnerships and Development division -- a unit designed to strengthen the library's public relations arm.

Division Head Amy Ryan said her new job will include drawing more volunteers and collaborating with the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library in their fund-raising efforts. She served as chief of the system's community libraries from 1995 to 2000. Most recently, she authored the system's strategic plan for the libraries' referendum-funded improvements.

Ryan and Hadley said they hope to share the "library's story" in an effort to educate the public about the system's history and role in the city.

"I'll be shining a light on what we have done," she said. "I want to build on our existing strengths and market the library more effectively to enrich library services."

Ryan readily admits that 2003 has been a "bruising year."

Last winter, there was talk of delaying or abandoning the new Central Library project. Fund-raisers told the Library Implementation Committee that apparent tension between the City Council and the Library Board has also left some potential donors confused about whether the library is a top city priority.

Mayor R.T. Rybak told the fund-raisers to tell him who those potential donors are. He said he'd call each to assure them that the library remains a high priority.

Ryan and Hadley said there would be a new push to make librarians more visible to the community, despite the stereotype that librarians are introverted.

Library leaders joked about using librarian "action figures" to promote their cause. A Seattle-based company has started selling a 5-inch- tall plastic, librarian action figure. The toy features a hand that makes a "shushing" gesture.