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Mayor Jerry Sanders and the lead fundraiser for the new library rising downtown disavowed a suggestion in a recent Los Angeles Times story that the facility could potentially open even if its $25.5 million fundraising shortfall remains.

The piece by Tony Perry quoted San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio saying there’s a “good chance” the new library downtown will never open.

It was unclear whether DeMaio meant the city couldn’t afford to operate it or whether the city simply couldn’t finish building it.

DeMaio’s office confirmed he was talking about the $25 million shortfall supporters still face as they raise money to finish construction of the $185 million structure. The project’s budget depends on a combination of state money, property taxes diverted by redevelopment, an investment from the beleaguered city school district and $63 million from private donations.

In the article, Mel Katz, the head of the San Diego Library Foundation and the project’s chief fundraiser, countered DeMaio’s warnings with this:

Katz said that the $26-million shortfall is not for the main building but for a side building, an auditorium.

That implied that if they can’t raise the money, the library might still open without an auditorium.

Wow.

So is that true? Were the mayor and Katz and others considering delaying or canceling construction of the auditorium?

In the Oct. 17 Morning Report, I noted that the Mayor’s Office was not sure.

Well, they’re sure now. I checked back, spokeswoman Rachel Laing sent this email:

Delaying or canceling the construction of the auditorium would not, in fact, cover the $25 million still needed for the library. The cost of the auditorium is about $6 million. I was not there for Mel’s interview with Tony (Perry), so I don’t know what the context was, but I’m fairly certain Mel would not have presented that as an option for several reasons — not least of which being that it would discourage donors if they thought there was an easy way to trim.

Katz insists that’s not what he wanted to communicate. He sent me this in an email:

The auditorium is NOT expendable. It is a key part of the entire project. NO donor would be happy if we did not deliver the entire project.

The pledges and dollars we are getting from generous San Diegans are for a library, with an auditorium, with 400+ computers and for a high school.

But this has the chilling effect of confirming DeMaio’s proposition that there’s a chance the library could not open even after it reaches its height.

Katz is optimistic.

“We are making great progress. Construction is on schedule and below budget,” he wrote. “The ENTIRE project will open in July 2013.”

I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of voiceofsandiego.org. Please contact me if you’d like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):

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Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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