The city’s plan to hire a consultant to plan a new central library is a puzzler.
Has a new groundswell of support for the project, which has an estimated cost of $40 million to $50 million, somehow escaped public attention?
The library project has been in the city’s capital improvement program since 2006-07.
This spring the project showed up as a project planned for 2017-18, with a funding plan that assumes $8 million in donations and a $42 million general obligation bond that would require voter approval.
The size of the proposed bond is enough to get anyone’s attention. For comparison, the bond issue placed before voters for the Pinnacle Bank Arena was a mere $25 million.
And now the city has asked prospective developers to indicate if they are interested in planning the library and providing information on their experience, staffing and costs.
The firm that is selected will come up with a plan for a new library and an estimate of costs.
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Lincoln residents have been talking about building a new central library for years. A 2003 study said the city had outgrown the Bennett Martin building at 14th and N Streets.
A 2012 study recommended that the city either renovate Pershing Center for use as a library or raze Pershing and build a new library on the site.
But when Mayor Chris Beutler asked for proposals to redevelop the Pershing Center site, he ultimately rejected them because they were too expensive.
One of those proposals, at a cost of $33 million, came from the Lincoln Library Board. Another developer also included a new library in its proposal, which called for the city to commit to a 30-year lease at $2.5 million a year.
Last year the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities proposed a Pershing Market with booths for Nebraska-grown food, restaurants, a greenhouse and loft apartments. The idea failed to get traction.
The Lincoln Independent Business Association wants the Pershing block sold to private developers so it can go on the tax rolls. But the city would have lost money on a proposal from a developer in 2012, which required the city to cover the costs of tearing down Pershing.
In short, history offers little reason for optimism that Pershing Center is a prime redevelopment opportunity.
Admittedly, the alternative of leaving Pershing Center dark and empty for years may be the worst plan of all.
But if the library board and the Beutler administration expect to convince voters to approve a $42 million bond, they’ve got a big job on their hands. Maybe they could start by explaining why it’s a good idea to hire a consultant now to draw up new plans.