San Diego is as broke as the Big 3 auto makers and for much the same reason: legacy costs associated with paying retirees. At the same time it can't find a few million dollars to build a much needed modern central library like the ones in San Francisco, Seattle and Denver despite the fact that $100 million of the $185 million needed has already been promised by the CCDC and a state grant! Now Obama has promised massive infrastructure projects in an attempt to jump start the economy. San Diego, get your application in now! This library project has been on the books but languishing for years. The San Diego Public Library Foundation has been trying to raise the last necessary chunk of money from private donors but so far to little avail.
San Diego needs a new central library. In response to this significant and long-term need, civic leaders have been working to provide the City with a first-class, welcoming and adaptable center for literacy and reading--a Central Library worthy of America's Finest City.
A landmark building meeting San Diego' s needs
The new Central Library will meet many civic objectives. First and foremost, the Library serves the community’s needs for literacy, information and knowledge in the 21st century. Plus, the building will be a new landmark—a civic icon that embodies San Diego's commitment to the future.
The building's design reflects the input of hundreds of people who participated in a series of public workshops. Based on this input, the joint venture team of Rob Wellington Quigley, FAIA and Tucker Sadler Architects implemented a breath-taking design.
The Library is a 9-story building of flexible spaces with diverse and accessible public amenities. Bay view terraces, roof gardens and a public “reading room” reflect and celebrate San Diego's natural beauty and temperate climate. All of the Library's spaces are designed to open, inviting patrons to explore or relax with a new-found book. Special features include a 400-seat flexible multipurpose room on the eigth floor, a cafe and a unique reading room under the lattice dome—creating a unique and extraordinary facility.
The design allows the Central Library to fulfill its crucial role as the heart of the 35-branch system--with space to provide literacy, children's and adult programs, disabled access, technology and web-based services, and answers to reference questions from throughout the region.
Garden Courtyard celebrates San Diego's climate
Patrons enter the library from an arcade inspired by Balboa Park into a glass enclosed three-story lobby with access to the circulation desk, popular library and children's library. At the ground level, large folding glass doors open to the southern Garden Courtyard. Across the Garden Courtyard is a 350-seat, sloped floor auditorium. During good weather, the entire facade between the auditorium and Courtyard opens up to increase capacity and share activities. This outdoor room, shaded by large trees, will serve as San Diego's town square--a large adaptable space that can host large brown-bag concerts, author talks and civic events or more intimate gatherings.
The top floors of the new Central Library will serve as a cultural penthouse. A great, airy, three-story crystalline reading room anchors this penthouse and is shaded by the dome latticework overhead. A series of open terraces look down into the reading room and out to the city and bay beyond. A flexible, 400-seat multi-purpose room looks to the west. An art gallery with a vaulted ceiling faces the Park to the north. Completing the complex is a smaller public meeting room. This inviting Public Penthouse to the Library not only celebrates the central civic role of the modern library but intrinsically links this primary cultural and educational resource to one of our greatest physical amenities: San Diego Bay.
Unique among civic architecture in the United States, the library's inside/outside latticework dome protects the public rooms and terraces from both the summer sun and cool bay breezes. Visually, it differentiates the Library from the commercial high-rises and hotels around it. Symbolically, it ties this building of our time to the regional architectural traditions of our past.
The library will offer far greater collections, parking, computers, amenities and public areas than the existing facility.
The new central library has been on the books since 1998 when the city council approved it. Since then the projected costs have risen from $150 million to $185 million in the ten years that has gone by and the City of San Diego has still not been able to come up with the remainder of the necessary funds to start construction. The main reason is that the City of San Diego is broke. It went through a period when its ratings were so poor that it could not borrow money. Now legacy costs are eating up the budget and the city is contemplating shutting down branch libraries and other public facilities.
A signature building designed by San Diego architect Rob Wellington Quigley, rising nine stories and encompassing nearly 500,000 square-feet overlooking the bay, will cost $185 million, if construction begins next July as planned. That is up from the 2003 estimate of $149.5 million, due largely to a $28.5 million jump in construction costs caused by the delayed start of construction. Time is money. And on a project of this scale, another postponement in the construction schedule would drive the cost significantly higher.
At present, the Centre City Development Corp., the redevelopment agency for downtown, has pledged $80 million in "tax increment" funds toward the library. These are additional revenues generated by new development downtown and they cannot be spent, thank heaven, to bail out the troubled retirement system or on other general fund purposes. On top of CCDC's contribution, the city has a $20 million state grant, which will be forfeited if library construction does not begin soon.
This leaves a gaping hole of $85 million to be filled by private donors – a huge but certainly attainable goal in the country's seventh-largest city. One potential way to ease the demands on philanthropy is for CCDC to boost its contribution to $100 million, which was the amount former mayor Dick Murphy proposed. Given the boom in CCDC revenues, the agency certainly can afford to contribute $100 million.
This still would leave, however, $65 million to be raised from individuals. Needless to say, a relatively small number of San Diegans are potential sources for this kind of money. (The city's first public library was built a century ago with an indispensable $50,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie.) Rarely in San Diego's history has such a crucial project depended on so few. Without their support, this glimmer of civic achievement will be blotted out by the dark clouds of San Diego's financial crisis.
Meanwhile, the site for the new library near the San Diego Padres' new stadium, Petco Park, languishes as a bulldozed vacant lot. The City Council voted in 2005 to begin construction so it wouldn't lose the $20 million state grant, but little has been done in the way of construction except to clear the lot. They call that "beginning construction"? While the City of San Diego has vowed not to spend any money on the library, it spent lavishly on Petco Park floating a $169 million bond issue in 2002. In order to do that the city's financial situation was obfuscated until after the bond issue was funded. Various other maneuverings by the City of San Diego got it in subsequent trouble with the rating agencies including underfunding the pension fund for retirees. At the same time the City agreed to bestow elaborate perks on the heads of the municipal employees' unions in return for agreeing to the underfunding. It seems they were more interested in building a sports stadium than they were in setting aside money for pensions.
These "legacy costs" continue to dog the city to this day with the result that, although it put $300 million into a privately owned sports team and stadium, it has no money for a public library which, if it is built at all, must rely on private funds. However, if Obama initiates a large infrastructure rebuilding project, the City of San Diego might have a chance to have some of that money allocated for the new central library for which over half the funding has already been allocated unless that money has been reallocated to something else in the meantime.