Town considers Mall as permanent location for Library

I just received the following memo from the Town of Chapel Hill email list. It shares some info on a proposal to move the town library permanently to University Mall. You can find it here on the Town of Chapel Hill website too.

TO: Council
FROM: Mark Kleinschmidt, Mayor
SUBJECT: University Mall Library Proposal
DATE: November 22, 2010

During discussions regarding the temporary relocation of Chapel Hill library to University Mall, Madison-Marquette, the mall's owners, expressed to our staff their interest in exploring the possibility of permanently locating the library at the Mall. The proposal would be for a mall anchored at one end by A Southern Season, and at the other by the Chapel Hill Public Library, which they propose would occupy the current Dillard's Department Store space.

It appears to me that are several reasons to explore this offer. When our Town Manager approached me about the Madison-Marquette offer, I asked him to provide his best estimates on how this change in plans would affect the level of capital investment we were making in expanding the current library. Our staff roughly estimates that pursuing a University Mall location could save the Town between four and five million dollars. In addition to cost savings, this location would be easily accessible by transit, be located near affordable housing, and would help us achieve economic development goals by catalyzing commercial development in the rest of the center. In addition, building a new library on this site would allow us to move into a facility large enough to meet the programming needs of our library without having to incur transition costs that we had set aside for a temporary location, and free up Town owned space to meet the space needs we know exist for other departments.

I asked the Manager to set up a meeting with representatives of Madison-Marquette to meet with me, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward who also serves as the liaison to the Library Board of Trustees, and Councilmember Gene Pease who has served on the Library Building Committee and is our liaison to the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation. At that meeting we asked several questions and confirmed that if the Town were to proceed the Town would own its space and have control over the design of the new facility. We asked that Madison-Marquette prepare an offer that we could present to the full Council and to the community.

After I was informed that the Town had received the attached materials, I arranged for the Mayor Pro Tem, Councilmember Pease and I to meet with representatives of the Library Board of Trustees, the Friends of the Chapel Hill Library and the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation. That meeting was held this evening during which we shared the details outlined in this memorandum.

Attached are a copy of the Madison-Marquette Proposal and a copy of the preliminary estimates I asked Mr. Stancil to generate.

I am asking that this be added to our agenda for Monday night's meeting (11-22-10), so that we can provide direction to the staff as to the next steps. If we pause the current library expansion for a 60 day exploration period, Mr. Stancil assures me that he will be able to provide us with a more comprehensive assessment of this proposal.



It's very hard to find a downside to this development.

The key question for me is how much sales-tax revenue does Dillards provide the Town and County.  We need to crunch those numbers carefully before we eliminate a business that creates revenue. Ironically, I just dropped about $8.00 in taxes there this morning while refreshing my work wardrobe.   

1. Is Dillards planning on leaving anyway ? (apparently Madison-Marquette approached the Town, not the other way around)2. How much business would the Library bring to the existing (or future) tenants of the Mall from the 1200 patrons/day that currently use the Library?

Like Mia Burroughs, I'm wondering how Dillard's plays into this plan.  Is the store going out of business or moving to a new location?  Or would it be, in effect, kicked out of the mall to make space for a new library?Of course, Madison-Marquette can make whatever decisions it wants concerning the inhabitants of its commercial space.  I assume that if they did decide to kick out Dillard's in favor of a new library, it would be because Madison-Marquette felt it was ultimately a better business decision.  I just hope that the town doesn't end up flexing its own eminent domain muscles with regard to Dillard's.  So long as decisions regarding the proposed new space are freely made by the relevant private stakeholders, this sounds like a pretty promising plan.

 Dillard's  has a lease, and unless they are in violation of the lease,  they aren't going to get kicked out before the end of their lease term.   Either the mall management or Dillard's can opt not to renew.     I guess the stress comes when one wants to renew and the other doesn't, and at this point, nobody knows  if that is even an issue.   I like this idea.   Great location,  Good for the other mall businesses--talk about driving traffic--the foot count to the mall will be tremendous!   That has to have some residual benefit to the businesses in the mall.    i do echo other's questions about the tax revenue.   Here are my questions:What exactly is the mall proposing?  A long term rental?  A purchase of the space?  Are there property tax implications that could reduce the amount of property tax collected on the mall property?    what would happen to the existing  library building?   How does the overall money structure work?   If we aren't issuing bonds,  what will be the way that we'll raise money for renting the space?  If we build a space, we are building a hard asset for the town so some of the bond  debt repayment is going to  help us pay for an asset.    (of course hen we also have repair and maintenance of that asset over time). We aren't doing that if we are renting a space.   Not saying it doesn't make sense, I just want to know more about the deal.     If the town is considering renting space, then at least make sure there is  due diligence   There's a vacant car dealership space on 15-501,  vacant space at Vilcom, and vacant space all around town, some of which might be large enough to accommodate the  library.   I don't know for  sure,  but  if the rental option is now being considered, then explore all the options.   I'd like to see a financial comparison of renting the  Dillard's space  versus building onto the library versus buying the Dillard's space (if that's an option).     I am sure the town will do this.    I appreciate the creativity of the idea.       

Anita, according to the memo, the town would own the space: "At that meeting we asked several questions and confirmed that if the Town were to proceed the Town would own its space and have control over the design of the new facility."

This is certainly worth studying for it could be a win for both the town and the stores in the mall.  A question I would add to the list above is whether it is better functionally to have a larger library in one place or to have two libraries of about equal size.  As UNC continues on the design of Carolina North, it has to decide how many of the functions of the main campus must be duplicated in order to make CN an attractive place to work.  The same question applies to a 2nd town library in the mall.

but it does duplicate what the County is planning in Carrboro.  That has to be calculated into the space needs/design which wasn't visibly happening with the previous plan for expansion.

Am I understanding this right? The "old" library building would become something else? This seems kind of weird, except that people's desire for all the things that books give to them would be translated into better retail sales. Like Bush said after 9/11, "shop, folks, for our future!"

I do wonder about things like if they wanted to expand the library again in the future, how would that happen?What about hours of operation?  The library currently opens at 9am on most weekdays & Saturday according to their website, but the mall doesn't open until 10pm according to their website.  Would the library be allowed to open just their section independently of the rest of the mall?  Do we know what time of day the library is most used by the public?  For the most part the hours line up pretty well as day time hours, so its not a huge concern, but something to think about.  Are there other ways in which public stakeholders interests and retail interests might be divergent in any significant way that would affect operations?At a surface glance, this looks like it could be a very symbiotic relationship that is worth further research.   But I like the library and I like U-mall (except maybe Roses) so it seems like an interesting proposal to mix the two.

Off the top of my head the Umall would be a great location for the library.Maybe, the rental would leave the land for taxation as well as the facility (building). But, if the Town "owns" the building and the land it would be tax exempt, with the land being subdivided from the rest of the mall. I think rental would possibly really be a leasehold with the building being owned by Town and land by mall, and the building then might be tax exempt. Whew.

we have a Community Land Trust that would be happy to help figure this one out!  :) 

I, too, think this is quite promising, especially from an accessibility standpoint. Already there is more bus service to the mall than to the current library, bus service that is more frequent, and a lot of connections are made there. Plus many private organizations bus in their residents.Another nice point is that a store is a big open space that is designed to be flexible - perfect for a library.Oftentimes there are stores in malls that are open earlier or later than other stores, especially on Sunday mornings. I don't see the library having to start opening at 10 AM because the mall does.  If the library brings increased traffic to the mall and that leads to increased sales at mall stores, then that might offset a tax loss, but I can't imagine it would offset the entire tax loss. However, if the town and county are going to loose the Dillard's tax revenue anyway..... And finally, the economy was a very different animal several years ago when voters (including me) approved the library expansion bonds. There is a real cost/benefit analysis to look at here. If the trade off is even just ALMOST as good (e.g., the library expands significantly, but not as much as in the remodel of the current building AND the cost is significantly less) then I think we should do it. Of course, all of the above assumes the town has a bona fide, pressing need to convert the current library space to some other use. The Chapel Hill Museum??  Just kidding, folks...

I'm much less sanguine about this proposal than most seem to be, so this is probably a minority view. A lot of questions here:1. What happens if  Madison-Marquette decides that the library isn't really pulling in the kind of patronage of the rest of the mall they intended?  Or they change their business model (again)?  Or they sell the mall?  Or declare bankruptcy?   The town isn't Belks or the S&W or Kerr Drug.  2. What happens if/when the library outgrows the limits of the mall space?  The sq. footage is already less than needed, and promises of a mezzanine addition seem potentially awkward and temporizing at best.  And there's also the issue of parking.  On a game day, will buses and tailgaters be competing with library patrons?  At Christmas, will they be hiring parking gestapo (a la University Plaza) to keep commercial patrons separate from library patrons? 3. What happens if the rest of the mall starts to deteriorate or fail?  4. Who's really getting the better end of this deal? I second Anita's questions about the financial structure.  The Town stands to lose tax revenue while spending quite a bit of money to improve something on privately owned land.  Or will Madison-Marquette foot the bill for the building in return for very expensive rent?  Do we want to be committing ourselves to that kind of longterm financial commitment without really having any leverage over our "landlord" regarding the management of the rest of the mall?  At best, it's a chirkendoose of an arrangement, seems to me. The most I'd consider prudent would be to keep this arrangement at the level of a temporary experiment.  Just too many issues out of the Town's control otherwise.

After an afternoon visit to the Mall yesterday and reading the CHNews today: Follow - up: 1. According to today's CHNews, the Town will be owners of the property at the end of the Mall, not renting tenants.  I apologize for not reading the proposal more carefully in the first place.  However, that only clarifies some aspects but doesn't represent any less risk. To the contrary. There are still questions about maintenance of the Mall property, parking (most all spaces on the 3 sides of Dillard's at noon yesterday were taken by basketball ticket holders  - how will that work with/for a library there?),  changes in ownership or business plan for the rest of the Mall, size limitations, etc.  2. Dillard's employees told me that (as far as they know) Dillard's has 2 years more on their lease with a hefty break-lease penalty fee if they are forced to leave earlier.  "We aren't going anywhere anytime soon" was a frequent comment. I'm sure that's what Dillard's hopes they'll say, but I'd be curious about that break-lease penalty.  3. The number of otherwise educated and thoughtful people who honestly believe that the (supposed) death of paper-ink books means the death of libraries is stunning. Somehow they've missed the big increase in patronage since libraries incorporated e-technology, not to mention all the other reasons people  -- most of whom I'd guess are laptop owners -- use libraries so much that parking and expansion are a problem.4. A very subjective impression is that Madison-Marquette's concept for the Mall is at best confused and at worst questionable, based on watching patronage of it dwindle as it's been pushed toward "high-end" and "community" usage.  Neither concept, nor the combination of the two together, seem to have breathed all that much life into the "new" Mall compared to the old Belk-Kerr-K&W days.   It's probable true that some library users would go on to shop (assuming a mall entrance in addition to an external entrance), but the most frequent library users seem to be parents with very young children and retirees -- does this demographic meld well with boutiques, art galleries and jewelers?  In any case, it's plausiable that a branch Library offers  benefits to a Mall owner and library patrons; but I still seriously question the wisdom of locating the one-and-only main library of a Town in a commercial setting over which the Town has so little control.

Priscilla: 1) Southern Season faces the same difficulty and by cordoning off certain parking for basketball patrons it leaves other parking for retail visitors. I think it works OK, in that I haven't had trouble finding parking spaces when I've gone during games. 2) That's obviously something MM has to handle, and even if there is a lease, either there are loopholes around it, MM will make a deal with Dillards to terminate it early, or some other solution will present itself if the Town and MM choose to move foreward.I understand the concerns about placing the main library in a commercial setting like the mall, and any deal would have to take care of those concerns in a wise way. But the advantages it has over the current library location in terms of access are substantial. 

It isn't that far over to Raleigh.  If you want to consider how this might work, go to Cameron Village, where the main Wake Co library has operated for decades in the shopping center.  I actually think UMall will work better since I assume it will be connected to the interior of the mall. 

1. If you were to superimpose the number of cars I saw at the Library last Sat. on the Univ. Mall parking lot by Dillard's on the same day, you'd have a serious problem without a parking deck -- which, I'm told, is one of the objectionable/costly items in plans to keep the Library where it is.  In any case, I'd love to hear what the University's athletic dept. and transportation depts. have to say about what to do with Town money (not that I think they should have final word any more than an unelected, private owner of the Mall should). 2.  "The advantages it has over the current library location in terms of access are substantial" - No question at all that the accessibility of the current library is problematic.  I've always wondered why there are NO regular buses that travel up and down Estes between Curtis and Franklin, none that would get downtown-crossing patrons all the way up to the library doors, and apparently little consideration of a different accommodation of in-out traffic at Estes.  Failing all that, relocation may be the only choice; but that still doesn't mean that the Mall location is automatically a win-win for the Town.   

For years now, the town council and a high number of regular posters on this blog have looked forward to the urbanization of Chapel Hill. Locating the library inside the most urban of urbanized services, a mall, applies that theory/ideal more consistently than does locating it within a park setting. Reusing an area with too much parking is more consistent with that theory/ideal than is taking out more trees to build additional parking in a park-like setting. Providing services located where large masses of residents already go rather than asking them to go somewhere that no other services exist is also more consistent with the theory/ideal. I'm finding it a bit odd that the council would even consider opposing this deal.

Terri,I don't  think Council members have taken a position either supporting or opposing this idea yet.  It's much too early given the paucity of facts and information regarding the initial proposal.  I think Council has appropriately asked Roger Stancil, the Town Manager, to take about 2 1/2 months to gather as much information as possible.  I think the fact that some Council members expressed concern over the design such a site would allow is very reasonable considering the amount of work that has gone into the design for the current expansion and the beautiful setting that our Library now exists in.One of the things Council members asked Roger to do was to solicit public input.  There are a lot of critical decisions that will need to be made in the next few years concerning how Chapel Hill looks and grows for the next several decades and the Library location is potentially one of them (I say potentially because we don't even know yet whether this proposal is at all feasible).  It will be interesting to see how many citizens take the time to come out and give their input when given the chance as compared to how many simply criticize the final decision after the fact.

You may be right George, but I listened to the entire discussion and the tone of the comments was decidedly negative. Except for Mark K, what I heard was concerns over why this wouldn't work, nothing about what a great opportunity this is. To me, tone is as much a part of the communications offered from council to community as the actual words spoken.

I have to agree with George, Terri. I think the council is very open to this opportunity but is proceeding with caution. There are a lot of questions and a short amount of time for them to all get answered. 

Given the flurry of public excitement showing up in the newspapers and the promotional cheerleading from M-M  -- who stand to gain quite a bit here -- it would be irresponsible for town officials NOT to challenge the plan on more than just "gee whiz, what fun" grounds.  In small towns of yore, libraries were indeed located near or in the  municipal and commercial center of town, but they started there and they were considered town property - still are.  If someone had described Univ. Mall as a twin downtown to the Franklin St. area 15 years ago, I might have bought that better than now, when the trajectory of Univ. Mall has become upscale and specialized in a way that is both narrow and potentially temporary if the business plan doesn't work out.  Anyone who's ever been in a failing mall knows what a daunting place it can be - and I'd hate to see Town money and heart locked into a situation like that.   However, I'm not saying it would never work out.  I am saying that there's a lot of money and loss of Town control at stake, and that jumping in whole-hog lest someone accuse you of having a negative attitude is not what we want from our officials.   

Lots of interesting questions and observations here, although it seems to me that a mall is the ultimate expression of suburban rather than urban living.  I personally like the library where it is, but if the proposal is fair, legitimate and more economically viable, then it should be carefully considered.   Years ago, before East Chapel Hill High was sited and built, I recommended that it be placed in the mall.  This after listening to imported architects warble on and on about the need for flexibility in the "modern high school."  What place could be more appealing and functional for teenagers, I asked, than a mall?   They're designed in essence to be as adaptable as legos.  These, and other, more moderate, suggestions from myself and my colleagues, were, of course, generally ignored.  That's a problem when the powerful and well-placed hear only what fits with their view. My concern about placing the CHPL at University Mall is that there may be more to the story than meets the eye.  With so few resources, local media is neither prepared nor inclined to examine the decision and its ramifications as closely as would be wise.Over the years there has considerable flooding from Bolin Creek in that area, some of it, if I remember correctly, backing up into the mall's drain system -- or at least threatening to.  Undoubtedly, selected experts will contend, with their reams of data, that a repeat of such flooding is highly unlikely, and that, anyway, corrections have been made that wil prevent any reccurence.  With all the new developments upstream -- full disclosure, I live in one -- don't bet the farm on this.   Years ago, University Mall's location was a lovely farm -- Paul Green's cabin basically overlooked it -- and virtually everything upstream was field or forest -- most of it nicely adapted to absorption.  I'll leave it to others to figure out what percentage of this acreage has been paved or rooved in the intervening period, but its impact can be seen in the creek itself and anytime it rains heavily.  True, we've had years of drought, but when it has rained it has rained a lot.  A lot.There are probably many other considerations to weigh against the numerous seemingly positive aspects of placing CHPL at University Mall, but we need to bring to such a process genuinely objective wisdom.    

I have some research questions about this matter. UNC has a library school, and ostensibly some of the faculty there have expertise in planning and siting libraries. What do they say about this idea? What questions/approaches would they suggest for examining the idea further? Not that a bunch of academics who work in an ivy-covered ivory tower necessarily have definitive answers, mind you, but, given some time (and maybe a bit of incentive), some of them might really help shed some light on the feasibility and long-term viability of this idea.Another question: what are other precedents (besides Wake County) for this kind of approach? Where have such approaches worked, or not, and why or why not.

Another question: what are other precedents (besides Wake County) for this kind of approach? Where have such approaches worked, or not, and why or why not.

When I moved from Chapel Hill to Raleigh in 1984 I checked where the closest library was -- the phone book said there was one in North Hills Mall but I found out it had been moved to an office park earlier that year (that branch has moved three more times since then). None of the current Wake branches are at malls. I did find this: -- the Wake County library branch was at North Hills Mall from 1971 to 1984.

even though it is an "outside" mall, my in-laws certainly shop when they go to the library, etc.

"None of the current Wake branches are at malls." Gerry, what about the Wake County Library Branch at Cameron Village? (note: didn't see earlier post by anonymous)

I was thinking of an ENCLOSED mall. I do not think anyone here in Raleigh considers Cameron Village a "mall", but a "shopping center" Of course, since it is a "village" that makes it the same as Chapel Hill.  :) 

"My concern about placing the CHPL at University Mall is that there may be more to the story than meets the eye. "That's probably an understatement.  I've been thinking that the discussion keeps sidestepping the fact that the Library was sited where it is because it was deemed a perfect, appropriate setting.  The failure of the Town to follow through on expansion - despite the positive vote for it -- eroded a vision well-considered and embraced not all that long ago.  The removal of bus service to the door has further undermined its usability, perceived and real.Now, at the suggestion of a mall owner whose vision for the mall seems confused and foundering, we are suddenly in the midst of distorted double-think rhetoric about "saving the mall" to "save the library" -- enouraging some to leap to a "win-win" presumption.  To get there, however, one has to torture all arguments to fit what is essentially the mall owners' rather baffling business plan.  (Side comment: the last thing thing the Town has needed has been not one but two malls both targeting high-end shoppers).   There seems substantial, thoughtful distrust and even outright opposition to the library-instead-of-Dillards plan on many grounds, especially economic -- enough that the Town should take a very long breath before charging forth any further.  Yet there is worrisome precedent for the Town to make a decision rather arbitrarily and without all stakeholders' interests clearly identified.The quicker things happen, the more you have to wonder what's really going on backstage behind a normally very plodding process.There are rumors, for instance, of at least two Town departments lusting after the library site and building.  That means that the debate may be couched in terms of whether we need X servie, Y service, or just some dusty old books more -- when in fact, it's -- surprise! -- just a matter of who has more clout behind the scenes to get the situation they want.  For a change... If it's not mall owners/commercial developers, it's the bureaucrats and the pols.It should be the library users and the taxpayers.  And they should not only be given a chance to speak their minds, they should be given honest information -- and listened to.

I have no special insights into what might be going on behind the scenes of this decision, but I do have some history about the site of the current library. I was on the Transportation Board when the location and site plan were proposed in the mid 90's, and it was immediately pointed out by us that both the location and the position on the site were very far from ideal for a public building. The Town never maintained that this was "perfect," but instead that it was the best they could do at the time. I always felt that this and the Southern Human Services building on Homestead were both terrible uses of moderately crappy locations. If I recall correctly, I  voted against both of them because of their lack of user-orientation.As for your suggestion that other municipal departments have their eyes on  the space, that actually seems like an excellent idea. That building and site are lovely, but they don't serve their purpose well.  To me, it seems much more appropriate for other town functions that don't have to be as accessible to use that building. 

"The failure of the Town to follow through on expansion - despite the positive vote for it..."Priscilla, the Town IS following through on the Library expansion.  The bonds were issued in October (I believe) and the money is in the bank.  The Town was in the process of negotiating with the UMall owners for design and build-out of temporary space for the Library while the expansion was being constructed when the Mall owners approached them with their proposition to sell the Town the Dillards' space.  All the Council has done is to place a two month (or so) moratorium on the expansion while the Staff investigates this proposal.  No matter where the expanded Library ends up being, the expansion is still happening and the intent is still to open the expanded Library in 2012.

How much (percentage) of the current CH library operating expenses are supported by county funding and how much of the funding support by the town of CH?  Has the OCBOC weighed in on this possible move or are they not stakeholders? Does Chapel Hill own the current building? 


source - Who knows what conversations have happened behind the scenes, but I get the impression that the BoCC is happy to provide operating contribution and not get at all involved in the town's capital issue here.   Of course, with them building their own library in Carrboro, I wonder if even that $250k is at risk.


If I were a commissioner i would wait till the Carrboro library is completed and see how the Carrboro, CH and new Orange county libraries usage turns out. It would not be prudent for Orange county to contribute more to CH library if usage numbers will change drastically. It may be prudent to contribute less. Why should county residents outside of Carrboro contribute anything if they are not and will not be using the CH facility?? Remember it was CH's choice to go on it's own for their library system. Our local governments can not keep operating like there is an endless open source of revenues to be charged to it's residents. The future US economy will be a different beast than it has been in the past 20 years.Our country is rapidly losing its middle class (with plenty of help from it's upper management class that run corporations and are contributing plenty toards growing China's middle class). There will just not be enough growth in income and jobs in America to keep operating like we have in the past. I applaud CH for taking a good hard look at the economics of this.

Suzanne,The County currently provides roughly 10% of the Library's operating funds but non-Chapel Hill users comprise about 40% of the use.  That is why the Council has been pushing for an increase in the County contribution.  Yes, Chapel Hill owns the current building.

It’s important for any community to make decisions based on the most current knowledge.  A University Mall  location wasn’t even an option on the table when the current library was built,  or when the expansion was designed and the bonds issued.  .  Circumstances have changed.     This location is a new opportunity, and the town budget is being hit hard by the recession.    Under those circumstances, I’m encouraged that  my elected officials  are taking a  fresh look at the overall library expansion plan with that new information factored in.   I go to the library at least once a week.  I enjoy the location, but it’s not essential to my library experience—I’m more interested in what is in the library than what’s around it.   And I for one would welcome thoughtful consideration about what is a want versus what is a need.    I'm not a tax hawk by any means, but when finances are tough, priorities have to change.   From what I  hear,  we're going to need  new bricks and mortar for other town services in the near future.   That can't be ignored in this discussion. If using University Mall means we get a new bigger  library in addition to other facilities we  need,  (by repurposing the current library building)   and for less money overall, then  that has to be part of the discussion.    We can't make every spending decision in isolation from every other decision.   We don't do that in our own personal budgets and we can't do it as a community either.  

Anyone go to the meeting at the Mall Wed. afternoon (2/2)?I missed it (have been out of town on sad family metters and am still dealing with them), but I see no mention in any of this morning's papers -- which suggests very low turnout or, possibly, just media disinterest.  I'm sure the CHNews will have something on Sunday, but until then...I note the preponderance of negative responses in recent letters-to-the-editors as well as the existence of at least two petitions.  Yet I suspect the "fix is in" on this one, regardless of public sentiment.  For all the reasons given by opponents, in print and in the on-line petitions, the idea strikes many of us who truly care about the life of library and town as a bad idea - shortsighted and conceived more for the benefit of the current mall-owners than anyone else by quite a bit.  Moreover, there is still the sense that what the voters and the council may commit to one year can be ignored and/or undone at will the next, much like the current chaos on Capitol Hill.  However, once the library has been relocated to the Mall, undoing that - when the Mall is sold or even abandoned (think South Square); or when the logistics of parking, needed expansion, or flood threats become exigent - will be far more expensive and daunting a project.  

WCHL talked about it this morning and it sounds like there was overwhelming opposition at the public hearing. I think you're right that this proposal from the mall owner isn't going anywhere, but I'm glad the Council is considering it seriously. I don't have a strong opinion in either direction, but it really doesn't seem like such a bad idea to me. I've always hated the current location, and I think the mall would be way more accessible to more potential library patrons.

"I think you're right that this proposal from the mall owner isn't going anywhere, but I'm glad the Council is considering it seriously."I guess I wasn't clear:  I think the Council IS considering it seriously and that opposition is being dismissed or ignored.    A branch library in a mall is not a bad idea, for some of the same reasons a book store might be.  Having the town-funded main library as "anchor" for a mall - especially one foundering and even possibly failing for reasons of misguided "vision" for the space - is not.  The fact remains that it puts a public, taxpayer-funded resource on private land and in a private context over which the town has very limited control.  The pitfalls are numerous, yet somehow the mall-owners' view of the bottom line for the town has become controlling. I'm weary of how blithely some dismiss the compelling arguments against the move -- both economic and cultural -- and repeating them doesn't seem to be getting through to anyone.  However, one more time,  here are Sydney Simmons'  comments at the head of one of the on-line petitions:  


I don't understand why so many people keep saying this is a done deal. I haven't heard any indication of that from the Council, just a serious consideration of the idea which I think is fair. What are you basing this on? 

Other than my gut feeling - which is worth exactly what you paid me for it - I have heard two separate rumors (again, worth what you paid to read about them) about which town office or departments have been promised the library space.  In addition, it strikes me that the comparatively prompt drafting of design plans by the town suggests that a fair amount of serious consideration has already been put into the idea. In market-research terms, you might say they're trying to move the discussion from "should we buy a new car?" to "what color should our new car be?"  Ultimately, it's probably also worth looking closely at the relative political weight of those voices most enthusiastic about the move versus those voices opposing it.

From having listened to the council discussions on this project, I get the sense that most of them feel more negatively toward the idea than supportive of it.

I defer to your impression, then, since I've been very much elsewhere in the last 5-6 weeks -- otherwise I would have attended council discussions.  In any case, an interesting debate that pulls in many, quite different senses of mission and community.

Terri,My impression is quite different than yours.  I sense that there is strong support on the Council for both positions and how it will finally be decided is really up in the air at the moment.

Greg Childress' article in the CH Herald supports some of my impressions, which are that (1) it's primarily commercial interests in the town who think this move is a good idea, not residents and not library patrons; and (2) that other town offices are salivating over the possibility of moving into the lovely library building.  (But who knows which town officer has most clout with Council members?) article, although it does acknowledge that "some residents" are "still" resistant to the plan (by implication, a stubborn handful), focuses on Aaron Nelson, chamber of commerce pres/CEO.  "[Nelson], said a chamber committee has determined that moving the library to the mall has 'positive social and economic' aspects....'Compelling to us is the fact that you get two buildings for one,'  Nelson said."   Nelson and that "chamber committee" constitute some of the primary voices who, I still believe, will be controlling in the final decision.  Getting "2 buildings for one" isn't actually the bottom line here, either. Tellingly, Nelson asked opponents the move not to criticize Madison Marquette for their administration of the mall.  Yet the behavior, policy, and practice of mall owners is a pivotal consideration in weighing the wisdom of such a move. The Town and the library are ultimately at the mercy of whatever mall owners do or don't do by way of planning and maintenance, not to mention selling the mall out from under the Town and library users.In addition, if the town's estimate (from the article) of expansion costs is $15.5 million -- which voters DID authorize -- while the upper limit of cost extimates for moving to the mall is $14.5 million (which we DIDN'T),  the difference constitutes less than the usual "margin of error" in such things. The various calculations of other financial trade-offs -- lost tax revenue, etc. -- can't really take into account future costs to the town of having to undo the move when the predictable-but-unquantifiable happens re: deterioration of mall conditions or sale of the mall. I keep having the image of our main library being placed at one end of the old South Square mall just before it was demolished. By all means, consider putting a branch in there, but by mall owners' logic, it would have to be one that appealing to the same people who go to the mall for upscale jewelry and clothing. Otherwise, is it really up to the Town to rescue Madison Marquette's vision for the mall -- which remains rather poorly patronized except for Dillard's, Rose's, and Southern Season, two of which don't fit its vision. 

A lot of people make the assumption that the Chamber of Commerce has a lot of political influence in Chapel Hill, but I wouldn't be so sure.

Since the proposal is for the town to own the space in the mall, wouldn't it be kinda hard for the mall owners to "sell out from under the town"? It seems to me that as a significant owner of the mall space, that this move would give the town more influence in the future developments surrounding the entire mall.

"Owning space" in the mall is not the same as owning the mall.  If Madison Marquette wanted to sell to another developer, or if they went bankrupt (which mall owners have been known to do), the Town might still have X number of square feet, but in what?  There would be nothing the Town could do other than cross the voters' and taxpayers' fingers that things would "work out okay."    It's not like the Town could step into a breach to become full mall owner with the resources to rebuild the whole mall.  It's not even like the Town would have had any input about whether Kerr or any other retailer should be evicted or who-all should be invited in.  For that matter, what should happen if more retail renters default, leaving even more storefronts vacant  -- would the Town as "co-mall-owner" have any role in that?  Should they?   And doesn't the Town already have "influence" in future developments surrounding the mall?  One certainly hopes so.   The point is, the Town represents the public; it is not a private stakeholder -- so its resources and responsibilities are different.  More responsibilities, fewer resources.  Owning part of a mall doesn't change that.  



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