Renewing the Library


Last week’s City Attorney discussion went on so long (read about the decision somewhere else), we canceled the work session on the CIP and the Library (thank you, Mayor Rossing for not starting the discussion at 10:30 pm).   I don’t anticipate the discussion will be much like the Wild Rumpus, but you never know.  I will try not to gnash my terrible teeth or roll my terrible eyes no matter how the conversation goes.

I don’t have much else to add on the “why is it important?” or “do we need it?” topics; I covered those here.   Instead, other news reminds me of the bigger downtown context in which the Library plans to expand.   In the Saturday News (with more to come Wednesday), there were some photos and a brief piece about developer Jerry Anderson’s proposed development for the Community Resource Bank site.   Jerry gave me a preview of the plans last week and I’m excited about this project.

What does this have to do with the Library? Nothing directly, but the one important feature the proposed 49,000 s.f. project would not include is parking (Northfield zoning does not require that projects in the C-1 Downtown zoning district provide parking).

Parking downtown is a big issue:

  • Jerry Anderson’s 49,000 s.f. project will generate demand for parking while creating no new parking spaces.
  • The Library expansion will also need parking.  The proposed plan is to build south and eliminate the parking on 3rd Street and the city parking lot at 3rd and Washington Street.   The plans also sketch in underground parking as part of the expansion, but the amount of parking to be constructed has not been determined.   The Library will generate demand for some additional parking,  will construct new parking, but will eliminate parking that already exists.
  • Downtown business owners have long complained about a lack of parking.
  • The NDDC continues to work on parking (and has been meeting with Library Board representatives to see how parking can be addressed as part of the Library project).
  • The draft CIP even includes money for a parking ramp study suggesting this issue is significant…

I have no answers here, but I would like to see the City and private developers like Mr Anderson work on a shared solution for parking north of 4th Street as a shared part of the projects on the table.   For those who would like to eliminate parking in the hopes of making downtown Northfield a haven for bicycles, pedestrians and transit users I’d say we have to accommodate the reality we currently have while working toward the ideal we would like to see.

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7 responses to “Renewing the Library”

  1. The best solution to the DT parking problem is to put a second floor on what is known as the “Jacobson” parking lot. This was recommended … what? 10 years ago? by the Walker parking study.. .another study we paid for and then ignored…

    The problem there is that at the time the City said they had no money to do that and the DT property owners would have to pay for it.. The DT property owners said we cannot afford to pay for it. I think it was about the same time the state general tax , paid only by commercial property owners, was implemented.

    I’m sure the City’s and the DT building owners’ PsOV are only more strongly held now, for all the reasons we all know.

    Why does every discussion have to start from the bedrock? What’s the matter with a two story parking lot in the center of the DT?

    The problem is always the MONEY! How can we find the MONEY?

  2. Betsey,
    First off, I really appreciate your not treating the parking issue as something that should stand in the way of library expansion. While the two are of course related, you rightly treat the limited as a whole-downtown issue.

    For those who would like to eliminate parking in the hopes of making downtown Northfield a haven for bicycles, pedestrians and transit users I’d say we have to accommodate the reality we currently have while working toward the ideal we would like to see.

    I agree, vehicle parking can’t be ignored. However, I think it should be acknowledged that we have this “reality” in large part because Northfield has allowed — sometimes forced — excessive parking in out-of-downtown development. I think a legitimate fear among small-business owners is that people will be more inclined to go to Target than their store if it’s just too much effort to be able to park downtown. Imagine how different that equation would be for the average shopper if Target’s lot were small enough that parking even occasionally overflowed onto Honeylocust and Jefferson Road. (I’ve never seen them parked on City streets; I don’t think I’ve ever even seen cars parked in the east or north lots).

    Kiffi’s suggestion of above-ground parking on the Grastvedt/Jacobson lot seems good. A ramp is not exactly charming, but neither is a surface lot. And it doesn’t have to be ugly — see the above ground parking at the Stillwater Library.

  3. Sean: You can’t really think that we have a shortage of downtown parking because we require too much parking at other non-downtown stores!?

    Lack of parking is a serious consideration to a library expansion. If the expansion takes parking away from other businesses, the expansion becomes a drain, not an asset to the downtown.

  4. Betsey: It seems reasonable to conclude that a parking facility is part of the “cost” of a new library. I’m sure that Jerry Anderson will put parking in any new development if the parking is cost-effective; but I suspect that it would just serve his facility, much like the Community Resource bank did when it occupied that space.

    Has there been any effort to make the colleges’ libraries more accessible rather than building more library? I know that the children have gone up to the St. Olaf and Carleton libraries for school projects. The college staff are very helpful. It would be cheaper to run a bus from the library to the front door of the colleges than it would be to build a new facility.

  5. You can’t really think that we have a shortage of downtown parking because we require too much parking at other non-downtown stores!?

    Well, yes. There is no natural law of parking here; we need as much parking as we expect/demand. In the case of the downtown, the problem is not literally that there is no place to park — except during DJJD, Washington and Water Streets are rarely filled — but simply that we don’t find what’s available to be convenient enough. Our standard of convenience is dictated by our parking experience elsewhere (like Target).

    It seems reasonable to conclude that a parking facility is part of the “cost” of a new library.

    I’d like to see Betsey comment here, but it’s not. Parking seems to be considered already a problem. At most, we should be considering the loss of 20-or-so spots on East 3rd Street as part of the Library project. (Betsey states that the proposed plan is to also eliminate to 3rd and Washington lot — this is in only in one building concept; it is possible to do the necessary expansion without eliminating that surface lot.) Though I don’t know that there’s any tracking of what parking is for what purpose, I believe very few Library users park on Division. If the Library is providing parking space for other businesses’ use, then I don’t think it’s fair to consider that a cost of the Library.

    Has there been any effort to make the colleges’ libraries more accessible rather than building more library?

    Lynne Young and Margit Johnson can and have spoken effectively to the Council as to why this is an overly simplistic idea. The college libraries and the public libraries are wildly different, in terms of collection and — especially — in terms of type of service. Much of what the NPL does is children’s programming (that the current facility cannot accommodate). They provide access and books for people with limited income and limited English proficiency. The public library is more than a simple warehouse of books, and in these areas, the college libraries are not suited to serve as well as the NPL.

    • SEan & David,

      Various calculations have been performed to identify how much parking an expanded library would need. I’d say those spaces should be considered part of the cost of the library. However, what if the library expansion provides more parking than required for library patrons? Those “excess” spaces could be considered an additional project or the library project could be thought of differently as a hybrid project.

      David, Sean is right about the College libraries – I have nothing to add to his very clear description of the differences.

      And, Sean is right about perceptions and expectations of parking. The 10 year old Walker parking study found people willing to walk 1/2 block to their destination – that’s not much. We have planned for cars and we’ve come to rely on the convenience. The challenge for downtown is we presume parking is shared among businesses, rather than each building providing its own. This is good because it keeps downtown compact, limits the amount of parking, and generally helps maintain the character if the historic core. On the other hand, if you’re expecting easy drive up and drive through access, you’ll be disappointed or frustrated.

  6. Betsey: A public/private partnership on library resources seems more likely than a p/p partnership on parking.

    For the 20+ years that I have been in town we have talked about more parking downtown. Part of the problem lies in the fact that people (including merchants) don’t want to walk very far. So, putting additional parking in one part of downtown doesn’t benefit the other side.

    The parking spaces that the library is proposing to take away are spots that can’t be easily replaced. If those spaces are moved to Washington or further, people would still use the spaces for the library, but those spaces would be lost to the downtown.

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