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Support for library plan is strong

But some backers are leery of how long it will take to establish the public-private North Anchor partnerships
by: SUBMITTED PHOTO Lake Oswego’s preliminary plans for the intersection of First Street and B Avenue downtown include a new two-story, 60,000-square-foot public library topped with private development, visible on the right, and a shared parking garage fronted by a restaurant and other business or housing space. With a public plaza in between, the project would be funded with urban renewal money, private investment and possibly a taxpayer-backed bond issue.

An effort to redevelop the north side of downtown with a new library remains on track, but the exact components of the project - and who will pay for them - are yet to be decided.

Made up of the city council, the Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency board met with library supporters and advisers on Monday for an update on the initiative, which could result in a long-sought new library facility as well as an economic boost for the area around it.

Dubbed the North Anchor project, the effort would redevelop the intersection of First Street and B Avenue with new buildings and a plaza visible from what today is the only downtown 'anchor': Lake View Village, to the south. Officials hope to draw shoppers and other visitors from Lake View north along a revitalized First Street.

Depending on the final plan, it could cost anywhere from $36.9 million to $71.8 million, not counting property acquisition. The public share's ranges from 100 percent for a new library only to 56-64 percent for a mixed-use development.

Exactly what the configuration would look like could change as officials negotiate with area landowners to assemble properties for the overall project site.

The city is now working to convene a task force to advise officials on the project. Tenants of affected properties will soon receive notification from the city that, if the North Anchor project continues moving ahead, they could be eligible for relocation advice and financial assistance.

For now, the focus is on a two-story, 60,000-square-foot library on the northeast corner of First and B with private development above it and, across First, where Lacey's bar now sits vacant, a parking garage with a restaurant up front on the ground level. A plaza would stretch between the two structures, offering the city the option of closing down part of the street for festivals or other public functions.

The existing 27,000-square-foot-library lacks room for new technologies and bookshelves and doesn't have a meeting space separate from the quiet areas.

'The community room issue has been mentioned over many years,' LORA board member Donna Jordan said. 'There are many people who go to the library to do research, find things on shelves and read books. If you have a music program going on or a lecture going on in the middle of the reading area, that takes away from those other people's abilities to do their research.'

A financing plan for the new North Anchor library concept hasn't been determined, but the money could come from a mix of sources.

Among the options, the LORA board is considering asking voters to support a general obligation bond to pay for the library project; it might also be able to tap special library funds and donations for this purpose.

Additional financial support could come from money generated by the district's future value, along with private investment in new retail and restaurant offerings.

'Folks on the library board have always assumed we'd have to do a bond for this,' said David White, of the Lake Oswego Library Advisory Board, who urged officials to take advantage of momentum in the library community. 'I think it's important to strike while the iron is hot. Get it on the ballot for November 2012.'

Library supporter Maria Meneghin agreed that November 2012 was the right time for a bond measure, assuming officials decide to send the issue to a vote. She said that would ensure a good voter turnout, because the measure would be on the ballot at the same time as national political races.

Regardless of whether the urban renewal agency opts for a bond measure, 'I still think it would help to have a grassroots information campaign,' Meneghin said. 'We want to bring the community together for this, not divide it.'

Still, public-private partnerships take time to establish, and some already see the North Anchor process as sluggish because of the time it takes to negotiate and acquire needed properties. And no one will know for sure the project's scale and scope until those negotiations are settled.

Some library advocates are teetering on whether they felt the city should seek voter approval of the library project alone or a larger economic development effort.

'I'm more partial to just having the library,' said David Short of the library board. 'Let's go with the library and hope because it's there that it attracts the private people to develop there also.'

Bill Johnson, of Friends of the Lake Oswego Library, said if asked to choose between building a new library within five years or building one in a decade, he'd definitely choose the swifter option.

'If we have to keep it simple to get it passed, that's the way I would move,' Johnson said.

Darrel Condra, a Lake Oswego resident and retired Tualatin librarian, noted that focusing on just the library could be a 'slam dunk' at the polls, while from what he could see Monday, private developers weren't yet at the table for the discussion.

'The library will drive foot traffic,' he said. 'No other retailer will bring 1,000 people a day downtown during or out of a recession.'

But the LORA board previously chose a public-private development including the library over a stand-alone library project, voting unanimously in March to advance two possible mixed-use concepts for further review.

According to a finance report prepared earlier this year, the mixed-use projects could generate $199,000 to $380,000 more in annual tax money - not counting additional tax revenue gained from any resulting ripple effect in economic activity around the new development. That extra revenue could allow the urban renewal agency to take on millions more in debt capacity to pay for its redevelopment projects, including elements of the North Anchor plan, according to the report.

On the other hand, although a new stand-alone library could stimulate some privately funded redevelopment around it, it wouldn't generate the same level of tax income because it would be publicly owned.

On Monday, no one questioned whether demand for commercial space exists.

Jane Blackstone, the city's economic development manager, said she frequently encounters entrepreneurs looking for downtown retail spots, but few fit their needs.

'We are approached often by folks looking for boutique shop spaces,' which she said are smaller and shallower than most now available downtown.

'There's a dearth of good retail space in our downtown,' Blackstone said. 'I think the demand is there, but we don't have space to accommodate that demand.'

At the same time, she said, First Street is 'underutilized,' with mostly single-story structures and parking that doesn't meet local needs.

Library board member Fred Baldwin, whose family operates a wine shop downtown, said he sees a need for both the economic development investment and the new library building.

'There's no question that there's very much a shortage of space, and the space that's there isn't very usable,' Baldwin said.

'And there's no question the city needs a new library - the quicker the better. I'd like to take it to the ballot next week if we could.'