Report: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Main Library should stay put

Report: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Main Library should stay put

Credit: The Charlotte Observer

Lee Keesler Jr.


by MARK PRICE / NewsChannel 36 Staff

Posted on April 16, 2012 at 4:08 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 4 at 1:08 AM

After four months of study, a committee has determined that, for the indefinite future, Charlotte can’t escape having a Main Library building that is thousands of square feet larger than necessary.

The committee will present its report Tuesday night to the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, which controls purse strings to most of the library system’s money.

Its conclusions don’t dispute that the 157,000-square-foot building on North Tryon Street is under-utilized or that it hosts operations that could be handled more efficiently outside of uptown.

But nothing short of a real estate market rebound – and the emergence of a developer willing to take on the whole block – can change the situation, the report says.

Until then, any move to sell the property will result in reduced profits, and any attempt to renovate it for rental will result in “fairly significant” costs to the library, the report concludes.

Bottom line: Don’t change anything until the economy improves, the committee suggests.

And even then, any sale would be best handled as part of a renovation of the entire block, as proposed in a report by the Spirit Square Task Force in 2008, the committee says.

County commissioners are not expected to take any action on the report, which was done at the recommendation of the Future of the Library Task Force.

Library CEO Vick Phillips said Monday that the Main branch has at least 8,000 square feet of space that is essentially vacant, in addition to other sections that are “too sparsely populated with staff or stacks.”

Still, Phillips said the task force report is “very realistic” in its conclusions.

“The conclusion I came away with is that it’s all driven by the real estate market. When that changes, then you’ve got something to talk about,” Phillips said.

Still, he says the study itself remains valuable, in that it settles many misconceptions that surfaced when the library was struggling with a $10 million budget shortfall in 2010.

At the time, critics asserted that the Main Library building could be sold and the money used to support cash shortages for years to come.

The study proves that’s simply not the case, Phillips said.

Critics also suggested money could be made by renting out large portions of the building and opening up a coffee shop as part of the site.

Experts say there is 450,000 square feet of space available for rent on North Tryon, between Trade Street and the Brookshire Freeway, Phillips said.

“The market has a whole lot of space. Who will you lease it to, when they have all these other alternatives?” Phillips said.

“The committee found none of those to be a viable solution to a very large funding problem created by the recession.”

That funding problem surfaced when the county commissioners voted to cut the library’s budget by $10 million. The county supplies about 90 percent of the system’s budget.

The lost money prompted laying off 180 workers, closing four locations and cutting library hours by half. Hours at six regional branches were restored for fiscal year 2012, thanks to an extra $2 million provided by the county.

The task force issued 39 recommendations last year, 37 of which are now complete, said Vick Phillips, CEO of the library. The two remaining recommendations – creating a library foundation and a new strategic plan with the county – are being purposely left to new CEO Lenoir C. “Lee” Keesler, who takes over July 1, officials said.

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