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The developer who has proposed building a new City Hall complex told me recently that he’d be willing to consider including a library in the plans if that’s what the City Council wants.
“If the city decides to change gears at some point and wants to study that, we’d be willing to study that,” said Tom Cody of Gerding Edlen said, adding that the company hasn’t drawn up any plans for a library because it hasn’t been asked to.
Cody said a library is like “a living room to the community, so adding that to the mix adds so much vibrancy to it all.”
I asked Cody about including the library because Councilman Carl DeMaio mentioned recently that Centre City Development Corp. had analyzed the issue in August in response to DeMaio’s questions. DeMaio has advocated studying the idea, though he opposes both building a downtown library and a new City Hall, at least for another decade.
In a letter to DeMaio, Jeff Graham, CCDC’s assistant vice president for redevelopment, estimated that the city could raise from $24 million to $30 million by selling the East Village site slated for a downtown library (or schoobrary).
Such a move would mean less space on the City Hall site for private development, which would reduce by $7.4 million the price Gerding Edlen would pay the city for the land.
However, Graham said those numbers are back-of-the-envelope estimates, and should be taken with a grain of salt. For one thing, he said, the real estate market has changed significantly since August. He also noted that a more formal analysis would have to be completed to examine, for instance, how much the library space would shrink if it was combined with a City Hall complex.
“I made a lot of assumptions that haven’t really been vetted with anyone except me,” he said.
DeMaio thinks the city could save more by replacing space designated for future city expansion with the library. However, Graham said including expansion space was a critical part of the plans because it would avoid the current problem, in which the city must lease space because it outgrew the buildings it owns.
Unsurprisingly, DeMaio — an advocate of privatization and shrinking government — doesn’t believe officials should assume the city will grow and need more space.
Lest you think that all this talk means a library could sway DeMaio into the camp supporting a new City Hall, the councilman said he’ll still vote against the idea. “If I can’t stop a dumb idea from going forward, I’m going to try to smarten it up,” he said.