April 29, 2013
Paul Noah, Publisher
Dayton City Paper
126 North Main Street, Suite #240
Dayton, OH 45402
Dayton Arcade LLC
137 N. Main St. Suite 200
Dayton, Ohio 45402
Dear Paul and Gunther,
In light of your recent public statements and correspondence urging the Dayton Metro Library to consider moving the Main Library to the Arcade, we wanted to share in writing our reasons for choosing instead to stay where we are and renovate and expand our current building. It's exceedingly important to the Dayton Metro Library trustees and administration alike that you have an accurate understanding of why the Arcade is not now, and cannot become an appropriate or affordable site for us.
Our mission as a public entity is clear and specific: to provide the best possible library services to the people of our district, in the best possible facilities, while using the public funds entrusted to us carefully and conservatively to obtain the best value for each taxpayer dollar.
In developing our facilities plan, we have always kept this mission front and center. We researched best practices nationwide, knowing that we would be designing facilities not just for today's patrons, but for generations to come. Our facilities need to be flexible, adaptable, and economical to operate and maintain.
We also asked for and received extensive community input during our facilities planning process. The message from the community was clear: citizens strongly preferred that we stay where we are and renovate and expand our current building. By doing so, we honor a longstanding history. The main public library has been in Cooper Park since 1888.
The idea of moving the Main Library to the Arcade has arisen on multiple occasions, but at no time has it met the criteria emerging from our best-practices research and community consultation. Here are some of the considerations that led us to this conclusion.
The Arcade is not one building but a multi-use complex. If we were to acquire the property, we would be taking responsibility for space we do not need and are not equipped to fill or to manage. Dayton Metro Library cannot be in the business of redeveloping property for use by others or be in the business of owning and leasing property to be used by others. Taking on that task would be rewriting our mission in a reckless way.
We do not have unrestricted ownership of the property where the Main Library is situated. Though our agreement with the City of Dayton allows us to use the site as a public library in perpetuity, we would not reap any proceeds if we left that property and moved elsewhere. We would be giving up an effectively rent-free arrangement and incurring the additional cost of buying a property. That would not be a good use of taxpayer dollars.
You might suggest that Dayton Metro Library could instead be a tenant in the block-long complex. We have been steadily moving away from leasing space for our facilities because of the loss of control that entails. Maintaining control of the Main Library is non-negotiable. More important, even if we were prepared to make that compromise, no entity has stepped forward to take on the complicated, risky, and financially draining work of restoring the Arcade.
There have been multiple attempts to redevelop the Arcade, all of which have required significant private investment and millions of dollars in public subsidies. Sadly, each of those efforts has failed. We cannot presume to know more than those who have taken on that risk and lost their investments -- despite the very best professional advice and the very best of intentions.
Libraries do not have large numbers of employees, and Dayton Metro Library is no exception. To assure the security of our patrons and our buildings, we need to have clear views and large swaths of open space in our facilities. The Arcade, however, is a collection of rooms and corridors that prevents easy and efficient monitoring. For structural reasons and because the corridors are very much part of the historic fabric of the buildings, tearing down walls or moving them may not in all cases be possible. At best, doing so likely would be cost prohibitive.
Maintenance and energy costs would be significant at the Arcade. We have a construction budget designed to build libraries of the future; we do not have an operating budget that allows us to heat and cool a soaring rotunda and large common areas that do not directly benefit the library, especially if there are not other tenants sharing in that cost.
In previous redevelopment attempts of the Arcade, unanticipated costs have been significant. As one person involved in a previous attempt said, "It was not a bid it, build it and it will come in on budget" proposition. Overruns are in the nature of historic renovations – but Dayton Metro Library does not have the luxury of bankrolling that risk, especially for a building that is in such indisputable disrepair.
There is very limited on-street parking near the Arcade. At our current location, we're planning a free underground 150-car parking garage.
Finally, and arguably most important, let us address important legal considerations:
Last month our bond underwriters sold $187 million in general obligation bonds on our behalf. The only way we could borrow this amount of capital was to have the bonds issued as voted general obligation bonds, which provides a pledge of property taxes levied and collected for the benefit of the Dayton Metro Library. Our legal counsel is unequivocal that we cannot take the money generated from the sale of general obligation bonds issued for a public purpose and then loan it to a private developer, as that is not allowed under the Ohio Constitution and Ohio law. In addition, the bonds were issued primarily as tax-exempt bonds, and federal tax law would also prohibit the use of the bond proceeds by a private developer for a privately owned and operated facility.
It's also important to understand that, as a public entity, Dayton Metro Library is not eligible to receive historic tax credits – only private entities may tap that tax benefit, and, of course, the credits are only valuable if the entity actually owes federal and state income taxes. Also, to be eligible for federal historic tax credits, a development project may not have a tax-exempt entity (such as the library) occupy more than half of the available space.
The Piqua library, which some have pointed to as an example to follow, did not issue tax-exempt general obligation bonds (the only bonds that were issued were issued by the City as taxable revenue bonds), and the library occupies the space as a sub-tenant in an arrangement that likely would not work for the Dayton Metro Library.
As you can see, the case for remaining at our current site is overwhelming. We cannot afford to risk taxpayers' money on a project that, at the end of the day, would not be in the best interests of our patrons today or into the future. The libraries we are creating across Montgomery County must serve citizens for decades to come, and we have to maximize the dollars taxpayers have entrusted to us. Please be assured that we have done our due diligence regarding this incredibly important decision.
President, Board of Library Trustees