Council takes dim view of “library plaza” proposal

May. 11, 2014 @ 08:06 PM

A proposal to turn the area outside the city’s library into a public gathering space looks unlikely to come to fruition.
City Council members say they are skeptical of the “library plaza” project, which calls for landscaping throughout the parking lot and other changes so that the area could host concerts, farmers markets and other community events.
Councilwoman Becky Smothers said she thinks the idea — which is based on the Ignite High Point master plan by Miami architectural firm Duany Plater-Zyberk — would make parking less convenient for library patrons because it would eliminate some of the spaces directly in front of the building.
“The library is a public facility over which much blood has been spilled over the years,” said Smothers. “Parking was a priority we were not willing to sacrifice. Acquiring additional property away from the building, to me, is not in keeping with a public building to provide library services.”
Led by High Point architect Peter Freeman, a committee of residents that developed the proposal recommended that the city acquire two parcels of land on North Elm Street to allow for expansion of the library parking lot.
This, along with other adjustments, would increase the total number of parking spaces for the facility from the current 178 to 226 under the plan, according to Freeman.
The Ignite High Point plan provides a blueprint for revitalizing core city areas and recommends focusing on the library because of its status as a prominent civic building in the middle of the city.
Implementing the entire project would cost an estimated $2.9 million.
So far, Councilman Jay Wagner is the only elected city official in favor of the proposal.
“It creates an opportunity to do something that is a major, transformational project,” said Wagner. “People all over the city use that library. It’s a focal point where people from all over the city can come. It makes that whole area a showplace for the city, and you’re going to get more parking than before.”
Smothers said she thinks the parking lot could use some enhancements and suggested having a landscape architect explore options. Mayor Bernita Sims said she likes the plaza concept and that the city might be able to pursue it in phases.
Others suggested that the council could pursue developing a downtown park in lieu of the library project.
“I would hate to spend $3 million to do all this and cause more congestion and issues,” said Councilman Jason Ewing.
Councilwoman Judy Mendenhall said she disagrees with the concept of making the parking lot a gathering space for things like farmers markets.
“As someone who struggled long and hard to get that library where it is and lost an election over it, it’s an important asset and is well-used,” she said. “I don’t see it as a farmers market. It has an important educational function for a lot of people. We have all ages of people who go there.”