Input Sought On Library Issue

June 2, 2003
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EAST GRAND RAPIDS — City officials will seek additional public input in June and July regarding renovation and expansion of city hall, the parks and recreation department and the library.

More than a year ago a citizen task force had recommended moving the recreation department off-site and renovating and expanding the library and city hall at their present location on Lakeside Drive.

Local real estate developer Jade Pig Ventures came forward last October with a different proposal — to move the library to the vacant Jacobson's building — and has since been working with the city on a plan that would tie together public and private property.

According to Mayor Judy Frey, the municipal complex is in a serious state of disrepair and the library is too small for the community's needs.

Though the library has one of the highest circulation rates in the Kent District Library system, it's one of the smallest district branches. The city's recreational programs have outgrown their current facilities, as well.

The city presented and discussed two proposals with residents at a public hearing May 15.

The first proposal called for rehabilitating and expanding the library at its current location on Lakeside Drive.

The second proposal, as introduced by Jade Pig, called for moving the library from the municipal complex at 750 Lakeside Drive to the former Jacobson's building at 2525 Wealthy Street.

In that case, the existing library facility would be renovated and used for other city offices.

City Manager Brian Donovan said that under proposal No. 1, the library would be expanded at its current site to 32,000 square feet.

Under proposal No. 2, the library would occupy 34,000 square feet of renovated space in the Jacobson's building.

Preliminary estimates are that the rehab-and-expand proposal would cost $8.3 million. Based on a 30-year bond issue, the project would require a property tax of 0.95 mills and cost the average East Grand Rapids homeowner $119 a year.

The library relocation proposal, by contrast, is estimated to require a $14.5 million bond issue, requiring 1.7 mills and costing the average homeowner $213 a year.

Some people have mentioned problems with parking at the current library site, but Donovan said how much parking would be devoted to the library if it were moved to the Jacobson's site isn't certain because there is no site plan as yet.

The 148,000-square-foot Jacobson's building sits on a five-acre parcel, has 550 feet of frontage along Wealthy Street and about 30 feet of frontage along Lakeside Drive.

The property includes an adjoining two-story parking garage.

Donovan said commissioners will seek further public comment through two input sessions tentatively scheduled for June 16 and July 7.

Commissioners will then select one of the two plans to bring to a public vote. They're expected to make a decision July 7.

An election could be held in November.

Jade Pig intends to renovate both Jacobson's and the Ramona Medical Building at 515 Lakeside, creating a major mixed-use development that could include apartments, condos, retail and office space.

Library branch manager Dawn Lewis said by last year's count, the branch draws an average of 755 visitors a day.

Jade Pig Partners Scott Wierda and Brian DeVries maintain that moving the library to the Jacobson's building would boost existing business and attract new business to Gaslight Village due to increased foot traffic generated by library patrons.

"Last year, we opened the doors to neighbors to answer questions about how this mixed-use development will enhance the atmosphere of Gaslight Village and infuse new money into the city's tax base," DeVries said.

"Even then, we heard a lot of support and enthusiasm for the ability of the project to attract new businesses."

In a follow-up, Jade Pig commissioned a phone survey of East Grand Rapids residents in April to gauge their preference for library location and their willingness to support a tax increase for library rehab and expansion.

According to a local pollster and business consultant, Rod VanderLann, who designed the survey and compiled and analyzed the findings, 67 percent of the 306 residents surveyed preferred the library be moved to the Jacobson's site.

Some 76 percent supported business development in downtown and the addition of more shops and businesses. Fifty-eight percent indicated that moving the library was the most likely option to win voter approval for a millage increase.

Jade Pig estimates its investment in the Jacobson's building will exceed $11 million, and that over 30 years the investment will contribute $3.6 million in city tax revenues.           

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