Let’s trade basketballs for books at Pershing, shall we?
The Lincoln Library Board of Trustees pitched the $55 million idea to the Lincoln Independent Business Association last week.
“If this doesn’t move now, it won’t happen for a couple of decades,” Herb Friedman, president of the trustee board, told the Journal Star after the meeting with the business group.
It’s a move that is more overdue than that copy of “Ulysses” you checked out in 2010 and never read.
The city has been debating the building’s fate since before Pinnacle Bank Arena began to take over Pershing’s hard court and hard rock duties two years ago. (I’ve yet to see a pancake feed in the new arena's basement, but one can always hope.)
The city has rejected previous proposals for Pershing, and so far Mayor Chris Beutler hasn’t given the nod to this one. (LIBA thinks the land should be sold to a private developer and put on the tax rolls.)
As for the people, well, we want something, even if we can’t reach consensus. When the Journal Star posed a “What To Do With Pershing Now?” question last year, hundreds answered.
Indoor water park. Ikea. Homeless shelter. Flea market. IMAX Theater. Parking garage. Skate park. Family-friendly strip club.
Library. Library. Library.
A library makes perfect sense even to me, a longtime lover of Bennett Martin with its Soviet bloc architecture and its magical interior courtyard, just the right size for young readers.
But I’ve come to accept that my beloved downtown library is too small for a city our size and that a bigger, better facility is in order, something for the digital age with modern wiring and a roof that doesn’t leak.
Pershing could be the ticket. It’s positioned perfectly on Centennial Mall -- a neglected corridor in the midst of its own rebirth -- between the state Capitol and City Campus.
But I don’t think a library can fill the building built for concerts and basketball tournaments all by itself.
Pershing needs partners (and a parking lot).
And what’s wrong with that?
Libraries are about sharing. Good neighbors might be coffee shops, cafes, condos. A courtyard for small concerts, a party room for wedding receptions. A section for small shops.
Ideas for Pershing are nothing new. In 2012, the mayor solicited proposals for the middle-aged building and its hotly debated tile mural -- a genius of midcentury kitsch, if you ask me.
And more ideas have followed, including a modern food market with locally grown food, restaurants, a greenhouse, and loft apartments, put forth by the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities last year. (At the time, Cecil Steward, a downtown resident and president of the institute, said there might be space for a library, too.)
Earlier ideas rejected by a 12-person committee included student housing and shops (with help from TIF money), and a 107,000-square-foot new library on the Pershing site or a renovation of the building for the same use, a proposal from the Lincoln Library Board of Trustees.
Now they’re back.
This time around, the group is floating the idea of a bond issue to pay for the renovation, with part of the money be used to update the city’s eight branch libraries.
Lincoln is a great city filled with smart people. We read books. We seem to agree that libraries are a good thing.
But a behemoth library downtown?
For some of us, it’s an antiquated concept, a model for the last century. (Build up the branches, they say. That’s where the action is.)
Others see possibilities. A hub in the heart of Lincoln that brings together the public and private sector, schoolchildren and community groups and nonprofits.
I was at the downtown library Friday afternoon and I wasn’t alone. I saw workers on their lunch hours and teenagers and little kids, patrons of every color.
It was a happening place on a hot July day. We can’t all drive to our neighborhood library. For some Lincoln families downtown, or close to downtown, this is home. Many of them are low-income, some of them immigrants.
I have a librarian friend. She works at Gere, the city’s busiest branch. She sees the functions of a modern library in ways most of us don’t -- study rooms and story times, free DVDs for those who can’t afford cable, books and e-books and librarians assisting patrons with job applications and new technologies, scanning documents and yes, checking out books.
The library is a safety net in a way, maybe a downtown library more than any other. And I would guess a library costs a lot less to build than a prison.
Supporters say the bond issue for Pershing’s makeover would raise the average homeowner’s property taxes by $34 a year.
Friedman called for a community conversation. And people are talking. Thousands of readers shared the Journal Star’s story on social media Thursday.
I’m ready to hear more, and I have a few suggestions of my own:
Lifetime waivers on overdue book fines for homeowners.
And, perhaps, pancake feeds in the Pershing basement, just for old time's sake.