Central Library

The exterior of the Central Library may get a new entrance on Harvard Street fit with a staircase. (Courtesy of Gruen Associates / June 17, 2013)

The project costs for a Central Library revamp have ballooned from $10 million to $15 million, and while the City Council on Tuesday agreed the renovations are necessary to revive the city's core, they didn't make a decision on how to fill the funding gap because two members were absent.

Officials plan to discuss funding options again in two weeks but it may be difficult to reach a consensus because the three council members who were present differed in their approaches to the problem.

For decades, officials have been talking about renovating the library, but it's only been in recent years that the plan to do so began to gel. Officials envision moving the library's entrance to Harvard Street, creating a perpendicular anchor to Maryland Avenue, which serves as the city's entertainment district.

The library's Brutalist architecture would be brightened by new windows and the interior would increase communal spaces as the library's role transforms from a book repository to a gathering spot.

In 2010, the city's redevelopment agency issued about $10 million in bonds to pay for the project, but that was frozen when state lawmakers axed redevelopment agencies throughout California in February 2012 in order to close a multi-billion state budget gap.

Since then, officials have jumped through hoops to unwind the redevelopment agency, which used increasing property taxes in blighted areas improved by developments such as the Americana at Brand and Disney's Creative Campus to support even more developments.

Recently, state Department of Finance officials gave Glendale the go-ahead to use the 2010 bond money tied up in redevelopment's dissolution.

However, the project's costs increased. Officials planned to tap $34.5 million in 2011 redevelopment bonds for economic improvements, but state officials have blocked them from using that money.

So city staff has suggested the council consider various blends of General Fund reserves, gas taxes and a federally-funded program called "New Market Tax Credits" to come up with additional revenues.

In the latter program, the federal government gives investors, such as banks, tax credits in exchange for giving money to projects in low-income areas.

While Mayor Dave Weaver and Councilmen Frank Quintero and Ara Najarian agreed on the revamp's importance, they disagreed on how to tackle the funding problem.

"We've waited long enough," Quintero said. "I think it's a missing piece in downtown."

The city has big plans for downtown. In addition to approximately 2,000 new apartments, many of which are currently under construction, the city plans to add a roughly $3.5 million paseo near the library and has already approved plans for a Museum of Neon Art on the corner of Brand Boulevard and Harvard Street.

Quintero said he'd like to use a mix of General Fund reserves and 2010 bond proceeds to pay for the project, but Weaver said he didn't want to touch reserves, noting that it would look bad after cutting back staff due to recent General Fund budget gaps. The General Fund pays for parks, libraries, police and other general services.

Najarian said he didn't want to sap any gas tax funds, which are primarily used for street improvements because residents often complain about broken sidewalks and curb issues and the money will be needed.

He also floated the idea of a library assessment to cover the funding gap, though no specifics were discussed.

"Don't close the door on that," Najarian said.

Weaver suggested putting the project on hold until state officials unlock the $34.5 million in 2011 bonds. But whether that will happen at all is a gamble.

On top of that, the clock is ticking on the 2010 bond issuance. While there isn't a hard timeline on when the 2010 bonds have to be used, the city can't wait too long, said Phil Lanzafame, Glendale's officer for economic development and asset management.

Cindy Cleary, director of the Library, Arts & Culture Department, said after the meeting she's willing to wait on the improvements.

"If it happens a year from now, or next year or in a couple of years, it will still be a benefit to the community," Cleary said.

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