The Mecklenburg County budget proposed Tuesday includes $65 million in public money to tear down and replace the Main Library at Sixth and Tryon streets – the first part of an ambitious plan to redevelop two full city blocks.
A succession of committees have been studying for several years what to do with the more than 6 acres bounded by Sixth, Tryon, Eighth and North College streets. In addition to the library and McGlohon Theater, most of the land is seriously underdeveloped, occupied by a mix of surface parking lots, the vacant Charlotte Housing Authority-owned Hall House tower and a police substation that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police plan to vacate soon.
The library has been at its current location, at 310 North Tryon Street, since 1903, when it was funded by Andrew Carnegie. The current building dates to the 1950s, with an extensive renovation and expansion in 1989.
“We actually started in 2008...There was an ongoing conversation about what the next version of the Main Library should be,” said Charlotte Mecklenburg Library CEO Lee Keesler, in an interview with the Observer. In addition to the $65 million from the county, the library plans to raise private funds to increase the budget. A total budget hasn’t been set, as the project is still in the early stages of design.
The 157,000 square-foot building houses tens of thousands of square feet of space for transferring and distributing books between branches, and accommodates delivery trucks – functions that would be better handled at a satellite facility not in the middle of crowded uptown, Keesler said. The new library would occupy a smaller footprint with a taller design.
“The new Main Library will be a modern facility with meeting and community spaces, and state of the art technology designed to promote learning and innovation,” the county wrote in its description for the budget proposal. Mecklenburg County Commissioners will debate and vote on the budget plan in the coming weeks.
The new library is the cornerstone of the Sixth and Tryon Plan, an ambitious redevelopment effort that would require collaboration between the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, the library, the Charlotte Housing Authority and Bank of America, which owns the site now used for the CMPD substation.
The plan, as envisioned, could ultimately include:
▪ 625 housing units, comprising 380 market-rate apartments, 125 “workforce” units aimed at people making 50 to 80 percent of the area’s median income, and 125 units reserved for senior citizens.
▪ A boutique hotel in the Hall House tower, which actually was once the Barringer Hotel.
▪ About 575,000 square feet of office space, including “corporate” office space on Tryon Street and “creative” space on College Street.
▪ Retail space at ground level, spread throughout several new buildings.
▪ An underground parking deck, along with more above-ground decks.
The stakeholders plan to create a new redevelopment entity soon to oversee the project and craft a financing plan later this year, as well as figuring out a plan to pay for the ongoing work and share costs. The process to hire a master developer would start next year, with one selected in mid-2018.
There are still a lot of question marks, such as whether an underground parking deck would be too expensive, how much public money is needed beyond the new library and whether all the owners will agree to blur property lines and combine their parcels to make redevelopment easier.
The library system plans to select an architect for the new Main Library branch after county commissioners approve the budget, with a design firm in place by the end of the summer. The conceptual design would be completed by late spring 2018 if all goes well.