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Posted on Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Redevelopment? Renovation? Ann Arbor library officials revive talks about downtown library

By Ryan J. Stanton


A patron browses the movie section on the first floor of the downtown Ann Arbor library on Monday afternoon. Library officials are contemplating the future of the downtown library.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Talks are picking up again about the future of Ann Arbor's downtown library, three years after library officials put the brakes on a redevelopment project due to a bad economy.

The Ann Arbor District Library's governing board voted recently in favor of transferring $45,000 from the library's fund balance to the administration's consulting budget.

Library officials intend to use that money to hire consultants to begin a process of determining the future of the downtown library at the corner of Fifth Avenue and William Street.

"What the library board has determined to do at this point in time is to gather whatever information we need to begin a discussion about the long-term existence of the downtown library in this location," said AADL Director Josie Parker.

"We put all of that on hold in 2008," she said. "We want to pick that back up."

But how the effort ends — with either renovation or redevelopment of the site — remains undetermined.

Functionality of the existing building, which traces its roots back more than 50 years, is a consideration, Parker said.

"The library board knows it has a responsibility to the community to determine how to provide library services from this site," she said. "If we do it within this building as it exists today, then we need to start planning how to do that.


Josie Parker

"This building needs a number of things done to it for it to function into the future just as a building," she added. "It wouldn't matter what was happening inside of it."

Parker said library officials are interested in learning about the community's expectations for the downtown library from a service standpoint. The public feedback could steer the AADL in the direction of a new or renovated library, she said, but no such decisions have been made yet.

"There's no conversation being held about redevelopment," she said. "There's no conversation being held about the building per se."

Still, Parker said, it's prudent for library officials to begin thinking about the future. She said a public library 20 years from now should look different than a library today.

"That's actually the challenge in front of us is how do we plan for that — whether we're in this building, a new building or a renovated building," she said.

The downtown library originally was built in 1957. An addition in 1974 doubled the size of the building, and an addition in 1991 doubled the size again.

In 2007, the AADL hired consultant Providence Associates LLC to evaluate the building's feasibility for the next 20 years. The findings led the AADL to hire a local architecture firm and begin the process of redesigning the downtown library.

A joint survey with the Downtown Development Authority in spring 2008 provided the AADL with feedback from more than 6,000 community members about the future of the downtown library. The survey was followed in June 2008 with three public meetings about the project.

But in November 2008, the library board voted to suspend the downtown library project as a result of the economic downturn.

The proposed $71 million project to raze the downtown library and replace it with a new facility had sparked debate in the community. It would have required getting voters to approve a tax increase to finance construction bonds, a scenario met with opposition from some who questioned the timing given the economic climate.

One scenario called for about a half-mill property tax hike.

Parker said the library had spent about $900,000 on an architectural and construction assessment before the project was put on hold.

Library officials had hired Luckenbach/Ziegelman Architects of Ann Arbor, a firm that designed the Malletts Creek and Pittsfield branches. The tentative plans called for razing the aging building and replacing it with a modern facility that would include a 400-seat auditorium, better lighting, more computer stations and 47 percent more space overall.

In addition to the main library downtown, the AADL operates four branch libraries.

Parker said the process going forward could start with another community survey. If the community wants a new or renovated building, she said, that would have to be funded with a bond and it would be up to voters to decide what they're willing to pay.

"Those are not questions we have answers to right now," she said. "So this is to ask the question: What does our community want to see?"

Library board member Nancy Kaplan said she hasn't yet made a decision whether she supports a renovation or redevelopment of the downtown library, but approaching the community and having an open exchange of information is a good place to start.

"It's something that needs to be looked into, so that's really what we're going to do," she said. "We need to know what it is that we need and what the community wants."

The downtown library is located in an area that's undergoing a major transformation right now. Directly to the north of the library, which is located at the northeast corner of Fifth and William, the city and DDA are building a new $50 million underground parking structure on the city-owned Library Lot. What goes on top hasn't been decided yet.

Directly across the street, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority is getting ready to demolish and rebuild the Blake Transit Center. Adjacent to the bus station is another city-owned property, currently a parking lot, that is being considered for future development.


The downtown Ann Arbor library traces its roots back more than 50 years. Some want to see it torn down and replaced with a new library.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Parker said there's been no consideration at this point of potentially developing a new library at any of those locations, though some have suggested they might be good spots.

"Nothing that concrete has been discussed at all," Parker said.

City Council Member Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, represents the area of the city where the downtown library is located. He spoke positively of the AADL's efforts.

"The library board is very competent, and I think with the leadership they have, they'll be able to do a good public outreach," he said. "And most of the public outreach could be from the people who are using the library as they come in."

Anglin said he thinks downtown Ann Arbor will need a main library continuing years into the future. He said he's not in favor of regional libraries.

"I think we need a focal point," he said. "We need it as a community place where people can assemble and see special programs and have special events."

Anglin said he's interested in the most efficient use of the site, too. It's a prime piece of real estate, and he'd like to see vertical development above the library if possible.

"I think if they continue on and get enough input, and if the community is behind building a new library, I always thought it would be better if it were mixed use, meaning maybe something above the library," he said. "The first two or three floors, a library, then something above."

Parker stressed that she's hoping to hear opinions from the community on library services, not necessarily on a new or renovated building.

"Because at the end of the day, it's about public library services," Parker said. "We do need some place to deliver that from. But what it looks like, how big it is, what goes on inside of it — those are all things to be determined."

Parker said there are some who might ask the question: Who needs a library in the 21st century when the Internet exists now?

"I think a lot of people in Ann Arbor can answer that question very, very well, and I'd like to be able to give them a chance to do that," she said.

The downtown library's door counter consistently clocks between 45,000 and 50,000 visits every month. About 1.12 million items were checked out for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011. That's down from more than 1.2 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2010.

From July through October of this year, 333,968 items were checked out. That's down 13.7 percent from the same four months a year ago and down 20.2 percent from two years ago.

Construction of a new underground parking structure adjacent to the library, which has taken a parking lot out of service for the past two years and closed South Fifth Avenue in front of the library for more than a year, could be to blame for the declining figures.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.



Thu, Dec 8, 2011 : 2:06 p.m.

"What the library board has determined to do at this point in time is to gather whatever information we need to begin a discussion about the long-term existence of the downtown library in this location," said AADL Director Josie Parker No - I think we're done with "gathering information" "beginning discussions" and any other place-holding manouvers to siphon off more of our tax money. Any city council stupid enough to have planned long ago to move library services out to areas that people have to drive to, when the next 20 year demographic will be an increasing number of old people moving into Ann Arbor because they can't/don't want to drive doesn't need to spend any more time and money debating the "long-term existence" of the downtown library. It's our library - and we want it downtown. End of discussion.


Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 10:25 p.m.

I love the downtown library. The building is fine. I would much rather go there than to a branch, even if it is hard to get to it right now. No one quoted in this article has anything to say about what the specific problems are with the building that would justify razing it. In addition to financially stupid, it is environmentally irresponsible to tear down a functioning 50-year-old building for no good reason. Also, if the role of the library is changing and our Director is not too clear on what will be needed in 20 years, why in the world would we spend $70 million to build something new now when we admit don't really know what it should be? $900,000 spent on assessment?? There's no one on staff that could have assessed what the building needs? Why is that?


Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 5:45 p.m.

A renovation that is cost-effective would be preferable, but not if it costs more to rehabilitate the older infrastrucure than to build new. Would it be possible to keep the newer addition(s), tear down just the old part and build new sections? If they are looking to spend their district tax dollars, I'm sure there are lots of other things they could spend money on,

pooh bear

Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 4:42 p.m.

I am very saddened by the fact that in a city that prides itself on being green, that demolition of a perfectly good building is even an option. I was hoping the library would take some leadership on this issue, understanding that the greenest building is the one already standing. The oldest part of the library is just over 50 years old--some parts are only 20 years old. . The University is rehabbing its entire dorm system, most of which dates to the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. They seem to understand the idea of 'reduce and recycle' much more than our city funded departments. And here goes the AATA tearing down a building barely 20 years old and no thought to the wasted energy and land fill issues created by this demolition--even without the inconvenience of yet another building project in this part of town.


Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

I stayed away from this article for a couple days after it first went up because I knew it would just make me mad. But it is very refreshing to see such sane and practical comments from everyone. THE CURRENT LIBRARY IS JUST FINE! I have a very pleasant experience every time I visit, what is wrong? No more unnecessary spending. As others have said, we have already allowed way too many stupid expensive projects in our city. We can't afford this. Fix the roads, bridges, and keep us safe (fire, police).


Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 3:32 a.m.

Everyone of these comments basically says, current downtown library is fine and don't tax and tear down over and over. So listen up and save the 45,000. and table the conversation about a tear down for another say 20 years.


Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 3:06 a.m.

It would be better to leave the downtown library in its current state for now. It is perfectly fine, maybe you could add another hour of operation on Sat and Sunday if you want to improve things, or adda few computer stations, since you reduced the number of magazines recently-there is more space there now and I thought more stations would go in: haven't seen anything in the extra space since you reduced the magazines for reading.

My A2 cents

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 11:25 p.m.

It is quite possible that both library visits and check-outs are significantly down because Fifth Street is closed to traffic and surface parking spaces near the library have greatly decreased. We still need a library downtown. I greatly value the services the Ann Arbor District Library provides our community.


Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 3:09 a.m.

Yes, let's see some statistics on check ins and check outs at all the branches and see where the downtown location stacks up. The ongoing and never ending construction on 5th is really bad news for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is parking near the library.

toothless wonder

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 11:19 p.m.

Mize well combine the Shelter and Library since they turned the heat down at the "warming shelter" to conserve money, people from there spend all day at the library already. ANYTHING will get a person kicked out of the shelter and into the cold- very cavalier. Anyway I say Have an area where the bus station people and homeless can hang out ,schmooze at the library You could put in OWS-friendly landscaping too for the encampment, on the downwind side of course for when the pepper spray flies on those who dare exercise constitutional rights against the man! POWER TO THE PEOPLE!!!


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 10:11 p.m.

The present library building is fine. The brick and mortar does not need to be ugraded. Instead look at new services. Stop wasting my tax money.

Tex Treeder

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 9:27 p.m.

I like the current building. It ain't broke, so why fix it? However, should the powers-that-be ignore the widespread public opinion that says keep it as it is, I hope they don't go in the direction they did for the more recent branches. The Traverwood branch is a cold place (design-wise, that is), despite the warmth that should come from the wood interior. The outside is rusting, presumably by design, and it looks awful. I find the Pittsfield branch and the Malletts Creek branches to have much the same problem, cold architectural designs that will soon look dated and uncomfortable.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 9:12 p.m.

Has the grace period expired on the emezzlement case so we can now start talking about spending more money. It is very nice not having to pay rental fees on videos and cd's but if the library wants an new building couldn't they just take over a blockbuster or hollywood video store... their vacant. The library wouldnt need so much space if they worried about books instead of movies and vagrants. Its just typical of the people who spend other peoples money, It doesnt take a granite counter and hardwood flooring to check out a book.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 7:45 p.m.

"The Ann Arbor District Library's governing board voted recently in favor of transferring $45,000 from the library's fund balance to the administration's consulting budget." What is it with every board in existence these days. They are all willing to spend thousands for consultants instead of putting their heads together. Oh I forgot that makes an assumption. I may not know whats best for the library ( but then I am not on the board( But I can tell them what to do with their consultant!


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 7:44 p.m.

Building for the future means the opposite of "community gathering places." The library's role providing meeting spaces started to disappear when the Internet came into view. I don't want to drive to yet another meeting - I want my public input to be done using new channels. You'll never get my vote if you build your case even partially on meeting space, Ms. Parker.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 7:43 p.m.

What is taking so ^%$%^ long to build that underground parking structure next to the library??? Can someone explain why it's taking 3 years? It's outrageous. Until that is completed and the decision of what to put on top is done, don't do anything with the downtown library. More taxes is not the answer for anything in Ann Arbor. One improvement I would suggest is to deal with the homeless population that parks outside and inside the library and causes problems (harassing patrons, shouting obscenities, etc). I visited the downtown library not too long ago and it was a virtual gauntlet to get inside, having to pass by several aggressive homeless people out in front who shouted loudly to me. Then when I was inside and walking through the stacks on the first floor, another homeless person came up and stood very close and yelled something at me. This is behavior that needs to be controlled by the library staff. Patrons are minding their own business and getting hassled by mentally ill individuals who are allowed to roam freely and behave in this manner. I know this is not a politically correct post, but it's reality and something needs to be done about it. And unless the downtown security is improved, not many people are going to want to park in an underground structure at night to go to the library. The location is a huge problem in a changing city. The library is now surrounded by parking lots and that is not a secure area at night. There is no active street life in that area other than gangs and homeless hanging around the bus station across the street. There are no nearby shops or restaurants with a population of customers walking around to increase the safety of the area. I would vote for building a new branch in another location away from downtown with well-lit and secure parking. As long as the city isn't willing to address the homeless population and panhandlers on the streets of Ann Arbor, move the library to another place.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 7:27 p.m.

The underground garage construction is a continuing major impediment next-door. Something will later be built on top of it. The transit center is another adjacent construction site. Just getting to the library is a big hassle and will continue to be for some time. Nothing can or should be done with the library till that is over. That will take a lot of time. Spending a lot of money on planning now, before it is clear what the immediate neighbors look like, makes little sense.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 7:21 p.m.

Just came from the library and am in awe of the helpful employees and how efficiently things work there. We get books, music, movies and community activity for very little, service when we need it and anonymity when we want it (through use of self check outs). Let's save the money for a rainy day (repairs as needed). The library is fantastic - as is.

John Spelling

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 5:01 p.m.

Anglin says ... "I think we need a focal point," he said. "We need it as a community place where people can assemble and see special programs and have special events." Really? I find it hard to believe there's no space available anywhere in our community for these special programs and special events. No school buildings, rec centers, other public buildings, churches (that are largely unused weekdays), etc? For $71,000,000 you can lease lots and lots of school auditoriums, school libraries, class rooms, church rooms, etc., and for many years. Please, make do with what you have.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 4:42 p.m.

The meeting room is too small for every event I've ever gone to, but that doesn't seem like it would be difficult to improve. I would LOVE to see the stairwell beautified by adding a glass dome, rather than the square top it is now. It would add such a lovely aesthetic to the skyline on William, and reflective and open spaces could bring the sky down through all the levels of the stair & elevator space. It wouldn't be a functional expense, but it would be a simple and elegant improvement that should be more affordable than razing the current building & paying for an architectural vision from the ground up....


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 4:16 p.m.

Of course usage in the downtown space has decreased -- what with the Big Dig it's not always possible to find a parking space anymore. It seems to me that the library is not making full use of its upper floors or basement as it is. Why build yet another futuristic monument to glass and plastic when we have a functional space with comfortable chairs and wooden tables and calm spaces to sit and read? (So unlike Mallett's Creek or Pittsfield, with the awkward plastic chairs and see-through everything.) I love our library and make full use of the Interlibrary Loan feature, which exponentially increases the number of available books to include nearly anything in print.

Jim Mulchay

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 4:05 p.m.

The whole idea of revamping the Ann Arbor News was that the Ann Arbor community was "digital / online" and no longer a printed material community (except for sports and coupons); If that is really true, shouldn't the library be looking at a more "digital" future instead of a physical structure? As far as a location - how about the State Street Borders building? Isn't it empty?


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 3:58 p.m.

There are folks who just have to have a new car (building?) every couple of years. It's expensive, but...


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 3:14 p.m.

"Parker said the library had spent about $900,000 on an architectural and construction assessment before the project was put on hold." (from Another $45,000 to be spent on consulting? C'mon already! Use the money on improvements and let us have our library back with minimal disruption of services. The ill-judged parking structure next to the building has been disruptive enough.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 3:12 p.m.

Instead of increasing taxes and deficit on such a useless project, AADL should expand its BOOK catalog to include titles beyond the "xxxxx For Dummies" level. Ms. Parker, We don't need a Mall quality library so that users feel futurisitc when they borrow a DVD, play Mario Karts or browse the Internet at the downtown branch.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 3:04 p.m.

understaff already.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 2:16 p.m.

The article states "Talks are picking up again about the future of Ann Arbor's downtown library, three years after library officials put the brakes on a redevelopment project due to a bad economy". Does anyone really think the ecomomy is better? The Library Board wants to seek input from citizens to see what they want. Why? in the end the Board will do what ever they want anyway, because that is how it is done in Ann Arbor.

hut hut

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

Improve the existing library and expand it's design to include an outdoor space for exhibitions, performance and public art.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 2:03 p.m.

When will the insanity cease? It makes NO SENSE to demolish the existing building only to erect new brick and mortar in its place. The downtown library is a fine building with strong bones and a unique character. I proudly bring out-of-town guests into the building to see its fabulous stairway and the gorgeous two-story skylight-capped space between the third and fourth floors. At more than 100,000 square feet of serviceable area, it is a travesty to even think of losing this building. And please, let's take any consultant's opinion with a grain of salt. It's easy (and safe) to start over — true creativity and responsibility will come only from working with the existing structure.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 1:24 p.m.

Oh yeah, I forgot, $45,000 would go a long ways with any repairs that may be needed--much better use of the funds that paying a group to sit around and discuss whatever.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 1:23 p.m.

Keep our downtown library as is with whatever improvements it might need. There is no need to tear it down and rebuild. Fix and repair. And, I truly hope that our libraries are around for many, many years.


Mon, Sep 17, 2012 : 7:03 p.m.

I totally agree! I have a bad feeling that this bond is going to pass, there are a lot of "Vote Yes! Build a new AADL Library!" signs all over town. I go to the library and do homework/study there all the time, I think its fine the way it is personally.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 1:06 p.m.

It is easy to tell which governmental organizations are over funded (UM, AATA, AADL to name a few). They like to tear down perfectly good, fully functional buildings and replace them with monuments to themselves.


Mon, Dec 5, 2011 : 12:16 a.m.

AADL isn't overfunded. All that $$ is traded off against lousy employee pay.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 10:25 p.m.

UM is not a "governmental organization."


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 12:49 p.m.

Hopefully we won't end up with an abomination like the rusty and weed-strewn Traverwood building....

Linda Peck

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

I just don't get it. What is wrong with the one we have? Why all this compulsive spending?

Jim Osborn

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 12:45 p.m.

"$71 million project to raze the downtown library and replace it with a new facility" Presently we have a nice building, with a good mix of books, video, computers, and meeting spaces, as it should be. The staff is good. And now they want to tear it all down and tax us more to do so. We are already paying for Hieftje's Hole (BIG DIG), the new city hall, the SHAFT, and many other expensive projects. We do not need this, especially not now. If anything, build anothe branch library away from downtown.