If Lincoln residents are very satisfied with their library services, as shown by several polls, there is no reason to transform the old Pershing Auditorium into a new downtown library, says the Lincoln Independent Business Association.
A poll done for the city this year and one done by the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research last year show high satisfaction with Lincoln City Libraries services. On the city poll, library services got the sixth highest rating of all city amenities.
The surveys appear to show little support for a plan by the library system's board of trustees and the Foundation for Lincoln City Libraries to build a new main library where Pershing sits now, LIBA said in a news release.
LIBA has traditionally supported private business taking over the Pershing site, which would put block 63 in the downtown area on the tax rolls.
Library Director Pat Leach said the system gets high support from the community because the city has invested in libraries and “stewarded that investment.”
But to continue satisfying Lincoln residents' needs, it will need continued investment and will have to change as the world changes, she said.
And the library board pointed out neither survey asked about a new library downtown.
"Although three-quarters of those polled were satisfied with libraries, that should not be construed to mean that there is not a vital need for a new main library," said Herb Friedman, board president, in response to LIBA's release.
"That question was never asked, nor was an answer ever received, and to twist those results into a proposition that the majority of the citizens of Lincoln are not in favor of a new central library is hard to fathom," Friedman said.
The library board and foundation have been pointing out the need for a new, larger downtown library for several years and have suggested the Pershing block as a possible site.
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Pershing has been closed for more than a year, replaced by the new Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“A new library on the Pershing site may sound like a great idea, but it comes at great cost to the taxpayers,” LIBA President Coby Mach said in the news release.
“LIBA and its members are interested in future proposals for renovating the Bennett Martin Library, but they believe the current proposal to construct a $50 million library on the Pershing Center site is a step in the wrong direction,” he said.
“The Pershing Center presents a unique opportunity for downtown economic development, and also provides Lincoln the ability to generate tax revenue by placing it in the hands of private developers who will increase its taxable value.”
The LIBA release points out that both surveys indicated dissatisfaction with streets and roads.
In fact, 58 percent of respondents in the 2014 poll reported being somewhat or very dissatisfied with streets and roads, and respondents in the city's Taking Charge survey rated street maintenance lowest in terms of satisfaction, the release notes.
"Funding a library project on the Pershing site at a cost of more than $50 million, with a direct tax increase through the bond process, seems short-sighted when compared to other serious problems faced by the Lincoln community, including the poor condition of our streets and roads,” Mach said.
The library board maintains the Pershing site makes sense.
"(The Pershing block is) an obvious anchor to east downtown" and the most logical and reasonable site for a new downtown library, said Friedman in the board's response.
The board stands ready to explore other "logical locations" to look at partnerships with other private or public institutions, he said.
"So far, Block 63 makes the most sense," he said.