Jeramey Jannene

A Mixed-Use Library to Replace the East Library?

By - Nov 14th, 2010 11:05 am

Alderman Nik Kovac, whose district includes the East Library on 1910 E. North Avenue, held a public meeting on November 11th to solicit feedback on the proposal of converting the one-story, single-use library into a mixed-use building. The meeting, which was held in the East Library meeting room, attracted a standing-room only crowd, and included representatives from the Library Board (of which Kovac is a member), the Department of City Development, and the Mayor’s office. In addition to Nik Kovac, Common Council members Ashanti Hamilton and Milele Coggs were in attendance.

The Library Board has proposed transforming the way library services are delivered by introducing three different types of libraries, mixed-use facilities, area libraries, and express libraries designed to expand facility hours and modernize operations.

The first phase of the plan is underway with the construction of the mixed-use Villard Avenue Library, the library portion of which will replace an existing one-story facility, and will operate out of a 12,000-square-feet, first-floor condo below 47 apartments. The new apartments will pay property taxes. In addition to the new revenue from property taxes, the library will be open 45 hours a week instead of 35 thanks to cost-savings from implementing a more modern design (the ability to operate the facility with only one staff member instead of three at all times being the biggest savings). The new library will also include more flexible meeting rooms to better accommodate both large and small crowds, as well as a host of other improvements designed to increase the utility of the library.

The intent is for the second implementation of the mixed-use library concept to be done with the East Library. To-date three proposals have been made for the site including two hotels (one by Doug Weas, whose firm redeveloped the nearby Kenilworth facility for UWM, another by ASQ Center developer Bill Orenstein, Founding Principal of Williams Development Corporation) and an apartment building by Mercy Housing, who is currently proposing a nearby apartment building. Alderman Kovac also noted as a possibility that a potential request-for-proposals might be expanded to include the adjacent Continental Savings Bank building. After a presentation on the broad efforts of the Library Board and the increasingly smaller budget they’ve been dealt, feedback was solicited from attendees.

Similar to many East Side meetings, audience comments focused around design, parking, and building height. Written comments were collected, but of the 27 comments made before the group they focused on…

  • 10 comments included concerns about design, many of which were aimed at the design of a potential parking garage, including one from Thea Kovac requesting that Spancrete not be used, an obvious reference to the unfortunate outcome of the Downer Avenue Garage design process.
  • 6 comments included concerns about congestion and parking.
  • 5 comments included concerns about with the height of the potential building, to which Kovac reassured the audience that a potential design review board would keep the height in scale with current zoning limits of 60 feet, similar to the recently completed Cambridge Commons.
  • 3 comments included concerns about the perceived negative effects of privatization.
  • 2 comments included concerns about the installation of solar panels or green roofs as cost-saving solutions.
  • 1 comment was voiced in support of increased density
  • 1 comment was voiced in full support of the mixed-use concept as put forth by the Library Board.

Assuming the Library Board elects to go forward with the process of converting the library to a mixed-use facility, the likely next step in the process is to prepare a request-for-proposals (RFP) to solicit official development proposals.

East Library

The East Library along North Avenue, with the parking lot immediately north of the building.

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Categories: Real Estate

10 thoughts on “A Mixed-Use Library to Replace the East Library?”

  1. Jeff Jordan says:

    This project should create a healthy debate about the best use of this site. The truly ugly and outdated, single story structure that is presently on the site serves no one well. It’s to small and shopworn for a contemporary library and it underuses the footprint.
    The need for a boutique hotel space on the north east side is intriguing. Everyone who is supposedly in the know says it won’t work, but everyplace I travel these types of hotels are thriving.
    Senior or workforce housing certainly is a possibility. Based on the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee’s mandate to increase student enrollment by approximately 15,000 students in the next ten years student housing is a market that can’t be ignored.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Jeff I like the idea of a small hotel. It would be the type of place I would stay at if I was visitor to Milwaukee.

  3. Rainy says:

    It seems things keep getting cut in Milwaukee, and jobs just keep being lost. The library near my home, has had it’s hours cut. It use to be open from 10:30 am to 8:30 PM, Monday thru Thursday, !0:30 AM to 5 PM on Friday, and !0:30 AM to 5 PM on Saturday. Now the hours are like 1 PM to 8PM Monday thru Wednesday, 1 to 5PM on Thursdays, closed on Fridays and Sundays. Many people are out of work right now, and don’t have computers at home to apply for on line jobs, and are now really limited to using the libraries computers, because of how many people who need to use them.
    And for those who work, who wish to use the libraries computers, or need to take out books, are more limited to when they can do this. Not everyone can afford to go buy books or computers, and heavily depend on these libraries that are continuing to be cut. Again, the poor have to suffer because of budget cuts.

  4. Dave Reid says:

    @Rainy Yes, library service has been being cut for years now. In part that is what this project is about, as it will allow for increase tax revenues by putting most of the property on the tax rolls, and a reduction in operations and maintenance costs.

  5. SS says:

    The less single-use the building design is the better. The whole concept of a modern urban library is changing so rapidly right now, the last thing the city should be doing is investing in more physical library infrastructure. There is already so much available commercial space all over the city, MPL should start selling their buildings and leasing smaller spaces.

    MPL should work off the assumption that within 20 years this facility will be closed or certainly that it won’t contain isles and isles of books.

    I’ve been a heavy user of MCFLS my whole life. It’s a real shame that most patrons are just there for free DVD rentals, and the computer labs are just people playing games and Facebooking. This is true both in the city and suburbs. If MPL actually tried to attack the abuse of the system instead of accommodating it, we would not be stuck with terrible hours and dilapidated buildings.

  6. Dave Reid says:

    @SS The plan is along the lines you laid out. Specifically, they would sell the land, and as part of the deal would buy back just the condo slot for the Library.

  7. Gleiss says:

    I think the boutique hotel paired with the library is interesting. It will be interesting to see if a boutique hotel can actually fill the site out, considering how large it is. This could be an opportunity to pair new residential units with the hotel (and the amenities it brings) and really bring some new energy to that strip along north ave. Nothing like a hotel to increase some activity on a commercial strip. We have talked about this site as ripe for this kind of redevelopment for a decade. It is nice to see it move closer to reality!

  8. SS says:

    Well OK. None of the stories I’ve read about Villard are very clear about who is buying what. One of the benefits of leasing the space is not having to worry about maintenance. The City consistently proves it is unable to maintain it’s own buildings, just look at City Hall: 3 years and $66 million. That is incompetent management of a priceless architectural landmark. I’d rather have MPL leasing at a known rate that they can walk away from if needed, and not be stuck with another dilapidated property to sell.

    At some point in the *very* near future it will be cheaper to give every citizen a digital book reader than to build, stock, and staff a dozen libraries all over the city.

  9. Dave Reid says:

    @Gleiss Yeah I’m very curious about the Hotel idea….

  10. Dave Reid says:

    @SS The Villard deal is likely more complicated than the East Side library would be as the East Side library’s land is more valuable. That said in both cases the plan would be for the same to purchase a condo unit in the building for the library, not the entire building.

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