Astor Library

The Astoria Oregon Public Library Foundation is hoping the city will look at public financing to pay for a full renovation of the Astoria Library.

A nonprofit foundation raising money to help renovate the Astoria Library has acknowledged the $7 million project needs more public financing.

Since forming in 2014 to support renovation, the foundation has raised about $83,500 in grants and individual donations after expenses. Coupled with another $1.6 million set aside by the city, the amount still falls well short of an estimated $7 million needed for a full renovation or even a scaled-back option.

W.C. Logan

W.C. Logan, a former mayor of Astoria, left an endowment for a new Astoria Library before his death in 1942.

The library foundation recently put the City Council on notice that public financing will be necessary.

“The board of the foundation believes that the next phase of funding efforts should be initiated by council and carried out by staff,” a recent report from the foundation to city councilors concluded.

The foundation lists a mix of public funding options, including a general obligation bond that would need voter approval, a full faith and credit bond the city would budget to pay back, the federal New Markets Tax Credit program and other financing tools.

The city has so far set aside around $750,000 in carbon sequestration credits from its forest preserve for the renovations. Former mayor W.C. Logan, whose name would go on a renovated library, left a memorial fund now worth about $900,000.

A full renovation, approaching $7 million, would modernize the existing 18,000-square-foot building, adding large windows on 10th and Duane streets and spaces for meetings, reading, teens and families. A new staircase and elevator would open public access to the basement, which would include an expanded Flag Room for community gatherings, training kitchen, gallery, media lab, collaboration rooms and the Astoriana Room for historical collections.

Renovating the basement for public access would add at least $1.6 million to the project cost. A scaled-back renovation option would include many of the same improvements on the main floor, but keep the basement for staff only and collections available by request but not to browse. Both renovation options would remove the mezzanine on the main floor and make the building accessible to the disabled.

The concept of a new library has been downgraded over time from being part of a mixed-use housing development at Heritage Square and an expansion into the former Waldorf Hotel to a renovation of the existing building. City councilors last year gave the green light to the full renovation, contingent on the library foundation’s ability to go beyond a $3.5 million fundraising goal and reach $5 million to pair with the $1.6 million set aside by the city.

“The council went with the large approach because the foundation said they could raise the funds,” City Manager Brett Estes said.

Former Mayor Arline LaMear, the president of the library foundation and a former librarian, said the volunteer group has worked hard to get grants, but that many large funding institutions have prioritized other needs, such as affordable housing.

“It’s amazing how many of these grants will say to you, ‘Don’t even apply until you have half the money,’” she said.

The library foundation will hear back in December on an application for a $750,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. But the highly competitive grant would require a $3 million local match raised within five years of when the foundation applied, meaning the Logan funds could not be tapped.

The City Council has not taken up the library issue since supporting the full renovation, facing a number of other pressing matters, such as finishing the Riverfront Vision Plan, a potential lease of the 17th Street Dock and the proposed sale of lots in the Mill Pond Village neighborhood.

Mayor Bruce Jones said he has not set a date for bringing up the library, nor has the City Council had much discussion of alternative funding options.

“Because the city has hoped the foundation would be successful in meeting its fundraising goals, (it) has not pursued other options while that hope remained alive,” he said in an email.

The library foundation is not planning any more local fundraising events, saying they don’t make much after costs and have already attracted the available grassroots support. If the foundation has to accept a smaller renovation, it will, LaMear said.

But LaMear and David Oser, the secretary and treasurer of the foundation, cautioned against scaling back the project. They argue the library, while having a significant local economic impact, has been mostly untouched since the 1960s, with outdated utilities and a lack of accessibility for people with disabilities.

“It provides, month in and month out, about $200,000 of value, and that’s just people using materials,” Oser said. “There have been many different studies in many places — cities, states, counties, domestic and foreign — of the economic benefit of libraries to their communities. And they all show double, triple, quadruple the benefits for money spent on operations, because they draw people in.”

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.

(3) comments

Jennifer Nightingale

When I first came to town, my furnace went out and it was mid-winter. I couldn't afford to replace it and it wasn't fixable. So I went off to the library and did my writing and discovered books. It was a dreary looking place and cave like i n the interior but like all things in Astoria - it was welcoming. I would like to see the library renovated and would be happy to help with any fund raising efforts.

Slappy McFerrin

When is enough, enough? Tax payers just saddled themselves with a 100 million in bond measures. The system was never supposed to work like this. The taxes we pay should be budgeted for upkeep. Instead they're squandered and every time maintenance is required the city or the county comes to us with hat in hand.

Barry Plotkin

i'm a regular user of the library. I have no desire to throw cold water on the renovation, and I was very much in favor of the original proposal for a mixed-use facility tying various spaces together in a synergistic way. Now, however, I think a far smaller amount of money could be put to use by integrating the library into the world-wide Inter-library Loan system. As a meeting place, the existing building and facilities seem to work pretty well. But for its main purpose, of providing books, the library falls well short of what the citizens of Astoria deserve. The recent integration of the library's collection with Seaside and Warrenton was an important and valuable step. But there are hundreds of thousands of books that some of us would love to have access to that the library, or any local library, cannot afford to have - or have space for - in its own collection. Thus, membership in a world-wide Inter-library Loan system would be a great investment with long-lasting value, and would not require any physical modification of the building to achieve this benefit. The Beaverton Library is already a member of this type of system, and when I was there, it provided enormous benefit.

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