Library wall comes down to size

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October 22, 2002 // UPDATED 1:32 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Kevin Featherly
Kevin Featherly

Council approves central library's schematic design, OKs bonding

The argument over the Downtown central library design may not yet be over, despite a unanimous Oct. 25 City Council vote sinking a wall along Nicollet Avenue to a height of 3-1/2 feet.

Mayor R.T. Rybak said architects Cesar Pelli and Associates might still come up with a better plan.

"I have confidence that there may be another way that great architects can solve a thorny problem," Rybak said. "My very strong hope is that the Pelli office can come up with a solution that will be better than any of the [options] that we saw today."

Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) said she is perplexed by the mayor's comments.

"It's as clear as day that what we approved was the final schematic design," she said. "So holding out hope that Pelli will do anything but window dressing to make a wall not look like a wall is just wrong. It's not going to happen that way."

The decision represents a final compromise on the controversial wall, lowering its unbroken surface to about waist height from an earlier projected height of 7 feet.

The wall is the exterior faade of a mostly underground parking garage, and in plans unveiled by the architect Oct. 1, the first floor windows of the actual library would have risen more than 7 feet above the mall.

The chosen option essentially sinks the parking garage deeper into the ground, leaving a faade rising 31/2 feet above the Nicollet Mall, and 21/2 feet above Hennepin Avenue. It will cost the city an additional $277,000 to complete and will delay completion of the project a week or two, according to Planning Department staffer Carrie Flack.

In adopting the design, the council chose the more expensive of two compromise options. A second plan -- one approved by the Library Board -- would have lowered the unbroken surface of the wall to 141/2 feet along the Nicollet Mall. It would have cost an additional $150,000.

Neither option would result in lost parking spaces, according to Project Coordinator Rick Johnson, though the approved plan will sacrifice some 2,000 square feet of library program space.

Councilmembers Goodman and Dan Niziolek had argued for eliminating the wall.

"I suppose I could have just held out to the bitter end to have no wall at all," Goodman told fellow councilmembers. "But the important thing is to move the project forward."

The approved design leaves unresolved issues of streetscaping along the exterior of the building.

The issue was one of a series of related decisions made by the council. In other library-related actions, the council:

- Approved a schematic design budget of $134.5 million.

- Agreed to ask the board of estimates and taxation to issue $110 million in general obligations bonds for the library building. The Library Board will pay back the bonds.

- Agreed to ask the taxation board to issue $10.1 million in bonds for the parking structure, which the Library Board also will pay off.

- Approved a resolution, authored by 13th Ward Councilmember Barret Lane, determining that the city will not bail out the project if private fundraising falls short of its stated goal of about $12 million.

Interim Library Director Jan Feye-Stukas said about $500,000 in donations have been pledged, and she expects $1 million will be secured by Jan. 1. Ways and Means Committee Chair Barb Johnson (4th Ward) said that figure would be considered "on track."