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Proposed Downtown S.D. Library Finally Moves To City Council

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Aired 6/16/10

A new downtown library is closer than ever to getting built in San Diego after years of discussions. But questions remain about whether enough money can be raised the finish the project.

— A proposed new downtown library is closer than ever to getting built in San Diego after years of discussions. But questions remain about whether enough money can be raised the finish the project.

Rendering of the proposed Downtown San Diego Central Library.
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Above: Rendering of the proposed Downtown San Diego Central Library.

The Rules, Open Government and Intergovernmental Relations Committee voted unanimously today to forward the project to the full City Council for consideration at its meeting on June 28.

Construction on the new library must begin by August or San Diego could lose a $20 million state grant for the project. That money is an important part of a funding plan that draws from several sources. The total cost of the library is about $185 million. Mel Katz is co-chair of the San Diego Library Foundation.

"We have a project that will not cost the city one cent. It will not cost anything to the general fund," he said. "We still have $32.5 million to raise and we need to raise it in the next 18 months."

Katz said that $32 million will be used to finish the interior when the building is complete. He says people will donate more money when they see construction underway. But Councilman Tony Young said going forward with the project without the money could be risky.

"If something does go wrong, who's going to pay for it? Is it going to come out of the general fund, will it come from CCDC? I don't know," Young said.

Critics of the project also question how the city will pay to run the library once it's open. The Library Foundation received a donation that covers operating costs for the first five years. After that, parking revenues and fees from renting out the library's community rooms are expected to cover operating expenses.

But Local architect Rob Quigley, who testified he was hired to design the proposed new library 13 years ago, told committee members that it is time to get started on the project.

"This is truly a historic moment," he said. "We are almost there."

Chris Cate, with the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, said the project shouldn't move forward without full funding in place.

"If the firm deadlines that have been outlined have not been met, San Diego taxpayers are going to be put at risk," he said.

To date, $152.4 million has been identified to complete the new central library.

Of that amount, $30.8 million has been raised from private donations, $20 million will come from a state grant and the San Diego Unified School District has agreed to put in $20 million to lease two floors of the library for a charter high school.

Redevelopment funds will cover about $80 million of the cost and an additional $1.6 million will come from other sources, leaving $32.5 million that still needs to be raised.

The design for the project, at 330 Park Blvd. in the East Village, calls for a nine-story, dome-topped library with an auditorium, meeting spaces, sculpture garden and underground parking.

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