Library land acquisition financed

Published 10:07 pm Thursday, December 5, 2013

An artist’s rendering imagines what West Washington Street might look like after streetscape improvements, a new library and other investments.

An artist’s rendering imagines what West Washington Street might look like after streetscape improvements, a new library and other investments.

The city will go about $2 million more in debt soon to bankroll land acquisition for a new main library.

City Council approved the measure at its meeting Wednesday night after hearing from three speakers during a public hearing on the issue.

PNC Bank will finance the deal for 15 years at 2.55 percent for the first 10 years.

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“I strongly support the library construction,” Councilman Curtis Milteer said. “I think this movement is movement in the right direction.”

The new library, proposed for a portion of land between South and Lee streets as well as some to the west of Lee, would replace the Morgan Memorial Library a couple of blocks to the west. The current library is a retrofitted furniture showroom and has outlived its usefulness, leaders say.

“The city has gotten good use out of the building,” Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts said Wednesday. “The building certainly doesn’t owe us anything.”

The city has proposed amenities such as a café, local history museum and genealogy center to be located within the building. But the main attraction will be a partnership with Paul D. Camp Community College that will bring resources and classrooms to downtown, with possible future expansion to accommodate an entire campus.

City Councilman Roger Fawcett, however, wants the city to think bigger. He noted upcoming tolls on the Midtown and Downtown tunnels will add expense for commuter students to places like Old Dominion University and Norfolk State University.

“I want something over here to help those students,” he said. “I want an undergrad studies facility.”

Speaking during the public hearing, Donald Mills, owner of Mills Marine and Ship Repair, advocated making a trade school available at the library.

“There exists a serious shortage of skilled labor” for the ship repair industry, he said. “It’s all about eradicating poverty and making it better.”

Vice Mayor Charles Brown, a former instructor at Newport News Shipbuilding’s Apprentice School, has also suggested a trade school at the location.

Local resident William Harward, though, sought to put the brakes on the plan during the public hearing.

“If it’s going to raise my taxes one dollar, I say no,” he said. “I’ve talked to several other people, and they cannot believe this idea has even come up. I don’t see any reason we should go in debt for another building.”

The entire project is estimated to cost about $20 million, Roberts said. However, the city’s share of that would be about $15 million, while the state would pay expenses associated with the community college.

A third speaker during the public hearing, Emily Klohn, supported the plan.

The 10 parcels that would have to be acquired are owned by three separate owners and include nine rental houses, four commercial buildings and two vacant lots. Some parcels have more than one building.

The two biggest owners are investment companies owned by Ralph Nahra and Andy Damiani, who said Thursday he is happy with the plan even though he initially wanted the city to expand and renovate the current building.

“We’ll have a library, and it will be closer to town,” he said. “I think it’s going to be good. I want to be a part of it.”