Cornelius and Bienestar are developing a plan to build a $13.5 million mixed-use library project on the city's main street
by: Courtesy Bienestar and the city of Cornelius hope to build a new complex

Sometime next year, residents of Cornelius might be voting on whether or not to pay for a new library.

But the price tag will be a shocker - in a good way.

The city is exploring a joint agreement with Hillsboro non-profit housing agency Bienestar that would result in a quarter-block redevelopment on the same block where the city library currently stands. The top floors would consist of 45 apartments for low-income senior citizens.

Down below, 16,000 square feet of new library space would open up at the intersection of 14th Avenue and Adair Street.

And here's the best part for Cornelius residents: they'd only have to pitch in $2 million of the total $13.5 million project cost. The rest of the money is expected to be drawn from grants and contributions.

Cornelius library director Karen Hill said the partnership between the city and Bienestar began to form about six months ago. Since then, the non-profit secured a $25,000 pre-development loan from Washington County Community Development to bring in Scott-Edwards architects to draw up a proposal for the site.

The new proposal is significantly larger than a scaled-back $5 million library project Hill developed last year for city council consideration. And the potential cost to taxpayers will be reduced from the $3 million bond the city would have asked voters for under the previous proposal.

'It's exciting that we've been able to reduce the cost and make it a bigger feature in Cornelius with all the other services,' Hill said.

Along with the 45 housing units, the new building would also offer a 3,000-square-foot community room for classes and programs tailored to the needs of the residents.

'We'll approach the project in the way that we approach all our projects,' said Karen Shawcross, executive director of Bienestar. 'For us, housing is not just bricks and mortar.'

Timeline based on funding

Bienestar is working on a memorandum of understanding to present to the city council in May, the next time the project will have a hearing.

Shawcross said her group has built 10 rental properties, including Juniper Gardens, currently under development in Forest Grove.

The timing of the project will likely depend on what kind of funding sources are available. Shawcross said her group will target low-income housing tax credits, USDA funds, Oregon Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program bonds and new market tax credits.

Hill said the library's supporters will pull out the stops on a capital campaign in order to raise $2.5 million to pay for the library. The city would then need to ask voters to approve a $2 million bond to fund the balance of the library cost. The cost of the bond would be roughly 26 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $42 a year for the owner of a home with an assessed value of $160,000.

'Complex project'

Hill said the project is based in part on mixed-use libraries in Portland's Sellwood and Hollywood districts. Both feature residential condominium units.

Under the development agreement that's forming between the city and Bienestar, the city would own the condominium unit of the building, while Bienestar would own the rest.

The current city council chambers would be demolished under the current proposal. But city hall would be able to adopt the current library space, plenty of room for city council meeting rooms, Hill said.

'It'll be a complex project,' Shawcross said. 'But the city will be able to save money on their library by incorporating it into the affordable housing development.'

Shawcross said the idea to partner with the city came from Jose Rivera, executive director of Centro Cultural in Cornelius.

'We believe that it was his idea to propose to the library that they should include the affordable housing and recommended Bienestar for the partnership,' Shawcross said.

Hill said so far the partnership with Bienestar has been productive, turning the project from an idea to a real possibility in less than half a year.

'They have a lot of energy toward doing a mixed-use building,' Hill said.

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