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.
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.”