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Wirt Library Site - It DID Make Sense

Much thought went into selecting the location of Wirt Library

September 24, 2006       Leave a Comment
By: Stephen Kent

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A recurring theme in discussions of the new Wirt Library revolves around second guessed the site selection? took the time to investigate the history of that process. In our opinion the selection made sense then and it makes sense now.

The story begins with who made the decisions. Responsibility starts with the elected County Commission which appoints the five member Library Board of Trustees, who serve without pay. The commission also appoints the seven Building Authority members who receive per diems. Responsibilities were divided by agreement: The library hired the architect, designed the libraries, and selected the sites. The Building Authority issued the bonds, purchased the properties, constructed the buildings, and hired the Construction Manager who hired the contractors.

The paid library administration and staff assisted these bodies by gathering information from the community and other libraries, coordinating meetings, and assisting architects in the design process. They did not make the decisions or control the process.

Prior to selecting the present site, many other sites were evaluated. Availability, legal requirements and restrictions were confirmed. Traffic, parking and infrastructure were checked. Potential costs were analyzed.

After compiling a list of properties, the first priority was determining which sites could be considered. The Library confidentially approached the property owners to see if they would be interested in selling. This was done quietly, without fanfare. Only properties which owners were willing to sell made it to the final list of possible locations.

Looking back, one can learn which sites were evaluated and why they were eliminated.

  • Uptown at Rivers Edge, as it's commonly known, was considered a prime location and was one of the first choices. But that is City property and the City did not want the library there. They hoped it keep this land on the tax roles and be used for private development.

  • The Larson Salvage Block was considered, with the City's blessing and encouragement. This location, bounded by Washington, McKinley, Madison and Seventh, would benefit from urban renewal activity and the contacted property owners were willing to discuss selling. The problem was traffic. Major through-town highway and truck traffic would be on all four sides of the site. This would pose a safety hazard to families crossing the streets and make parking management difficult.

  • The Old Main Library was evaluated in two comprehensive studies. They concluded that expanding at that site was not feasible for many reasons, not the least of which was the building's historic designation as one of the few remaining Carnegie libraries in the state. To add such a large addition would greatly diminish the historic building and cause great difficulties through the Historic Preservation approval process. Making the building barrier free would also have involved significant expense. Bringing a large parking lot and heavy traffic into the residential neighborhood was a problem, but more significant was the reluctance of a major property owner to sell.

  • The old Labadie Dealership next to City Hall would seem to be an ideal location. At that time, however, the city was making plans for a new police facility to be built there. Sharing the property was considered but deemed impractical.

  • The Pier Marquette Depot has been mentioned by many people and was evaluated. At that time the depot was owned by the people who planned to put a Clara's Restaurant there and they were moving forward with that plan. It was over five months after the final Library site was selected that the Clara's group gave up and put the property on the market.

  • Hampton Town Centre was evaluated. The shopping mall was almost gone and the property was beginning to be put to other uses. Among the detract ions of that site was the desire for the Central Library to be centrally located.

  • The Jennison Boat House, as it is now known, was evaluated. The owners were willing to sell at that time, and the riverfront location was attractive, but parking and access proved to be costly and difficult to design.

  • The property across from the Bay Metro terminal was evaluated. It proved impossible to put together enough parcels of land to make that site work.

  • The Battery Park location, which was finally selected, was the other option and it looked good. The City wanted to get rid of the old jail, which was considered an eyesore. The property was centrally located. There was good traffic flow and parking could be worked out. Battery Park was a public space which the library would only enhance. Finally, all of the property owners were willing to sell!

    The controversy over this site seemed to begin after the site was selected and the millage had been passed. The Building Authority's legal counsel hired an appraiser and the appraisal process moved very slowly. The original goodwill between the library and the property owners vanished. What started as a win-win situation soon turned into controversy and ill will.

    The unfortunate thing is that the delay and bickering over the site has been laid at the feet of the Library staff and management. In all fairness, they didn't make the final decisions, they did not manage the project, they did not mess up the land deal, they did not cause the problems.

    In the end, the project came together and the library was built. It has proved to be a jewel of the downtown area and widely praised by all who have visited and use the facility.

    With Library renewal on the ballot in November, it is essential that the citizens of the county put things in perspective. The project was a success. The new library is everything the citizens wanted and needed. It's now time to move forward and support this vital part of local government.

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    Stephen Kent

    Steve Kent and his family have lived in Bay City for 40 years. He is VP of Technical Services at MMCC which produces MyBayCity.Com. Kent is active in many Bay City civic organizations.

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