Minneapolis will break ground for the new Central library

Voters initially approved a plan for a new downtown library in 2000.

ABy Joe Mahon

After spending six weeks at a standstill, the city of Minneapolis has decided to go forward with construction of its Central Library downtown.

In its meeting Friday, the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to approve a low bid for excavation of the library site and to work on developing a strategic partnership between the Library Board and Hennepin County.

Funding disputes had threatened the problem with delay or cancellation in recent weeks.

Voters originally approved the plan in November 2000 to build a new, monumental city library, at a price of $140 million. In January, with a temporary location operating on Marquette Avenue, demolition began on the old Central Library.

To date, the project has cost $17 million.

In March, the Library Board realized cuts in state local government aid threatened the library’s future. State aid has financed more than 40 percent of the library’s budget.

The Library Board, which operates independently of the City Council, considered such options as purchasing the library’s temporary location, delaying the project until funding could be found, scaling back services and hours, or even closing branch libraries.

Citizen groups opposed such suggestions and lobbied for continuing the original project.

“The best help I got didn’t come from council members complaining to the Library Board but from citizens who came to public meetings and asked the right questions,” said City Council member Sandy Colvin Roy, 12th Ward.

Citizen groups obtained a victory earlier this month with an analysis commissioned by library officials. The report concluded the cost of delay was significant, redesign would be too expensive, and the temporary location would cost more to purchase and operate less efficiently than the original plan.

Although the report did not recommend going ahead with the library, that option looked like it would be cheapest.

After the Library Board voted to move ahead with the project, director Kit Hadley took the report to the city’s Ways and Means Committee on April 14 and the panel voted to accept the excavation bid by Knutson Construction Services for $4.2 million.

The committee also voted to create a partnership among the city, the Library Board and Hennepin County, to be investigated as part of the 2004 budget process.

That same day, the Minneapolis Planning Commission approved the site plan for the new library, designed by architect Cesar Pelli, who also designed the Wells Fargo Center downtown.

Friday’s council vote reaffirmed what the Ways and Means Committee decided. When the resolutions passed, library project supporters erupted into applause.

While the mood was mostly congratulatory, City Council member Paul Zerby, 2nd Ward, who represents the University’s Minneapolis campus, said the project is in its early stages and still faces funding threats beyond excavation.

“We can’t just pass this and forget about it; we need to work hard on it now,” Zerby said.

The city will break ground for the library in a May 20 ceremony.

Joe Mahon covers campus neighborhoods and welcomes comments at [email protected]