In something of surprise -- at least to Mayor R.T. Rybak and councilmember Lisa Goodman -- architects working on the two-block new Downtown Central library plan suggested last week that a park, not housing, might be built on the so-called "north block" between Washington Avenue and 3rd Street and Hennepin Avenue and the Nicollet Mall.
Rybak and Goodman -- engaged in City Hall's painful round of budget cutting -- alleged that the park idea was too expensive compared to a longstanding parking/housing concept that would contribute to the city's tax base. Both are members of the new library's Implementation Committee, which is split among city and library board appointees.
"Unless the Implementation Committee is making money in the basement, I don't know how we can even discuss a park," said Goodman.
The city has spent $4 million buying the "north block" and recently spent $8 million for a half-block park rising directly across Nicollet Mall at the Marquette Plaza development, 250 Marquette Ave., Goodman noted.
Diane Hofstede, the chair of the library board and co-chair of the implementation committee, said architects and staff were merely responding to Rybak's earlier call for "out-of-the-box" thinking.
Rybak had made that request as city and library officials tussled over which site the library would go on. City officials favored the north block as a "gateway" because of its unobstructed views. Library officials supported the larger "south block" site, between 3rd and 4th streets (where the current library sits), as more workable for the new library. At last week's meeting, the committee voted to put the library on the south block, prompting the park concept.
Hofstede said the park is an attempt to please "gateway" fans while putting the library on the more workable south block. Of any lost property-tax revenue, she said, "I understand -- we're cutting the library board's budget, too. But a lot of our great symbols were paid for during the Great Depression."
Hofstede suggested that a prominent Twin Cities family such as the Daytons or Cargills might purchase naming rights to the park and offset public cost. She also argued that property tax revenue would be recouped from a north-block park because surrounding blocks would rise in value.
That argument left Rybak cold. The new library, he said, is already a significant public investment that should spur development. "One of the things we have to learn in this city is that we should wait for private investment rather than continually putting in more public investment. We invested in City Center, but then we also spend money on Gaviidae [Common], the Radisson, Block E -- that's one reason we're in the fiscal mess we are in today."
Hofstede said the park idea is not set in stone; the financial implications will be more carefully analyzed and the debate resumed at the next Implementation Committee meeting March 19.