Mixed-use library discussed
No design concepts selected yet
By Scott Bellile
The consultant heading New London’s proposed mixed-use library building project predicts the facility could break ground in two years, if the city decides to build one.
Randall Stadtmueller, president of Neenah-based Stadtmueller & Associates, told the New London Economic Development Committee on July 25 that his firm could have the first of three conceptual designs in front of city aldermen by Christmas this year.
Stadtmueller hopes to have a cost analysis for the project completed by next April. That information would be used in preparing for the bid process among construction firms. Stadtmueller projected bidding could occur in fall 2018.
“I would hope by this time next year, we have a bid packet that’s getting out on the street, and [then] five or six weeks for bids,” Stadtmueller said. “We could actually go in the ground in the spring of ’19. And of course to do that, you have to have all the financing ready, so somewhere in there is that little task.”
Stadtmueller & Associates is partnering with SEH Design/Build for the undertaking. The two firms have until Dec. 21, 2018, to get their share of the work finished, according to their $88,500 contract with the city.
The New London City Council approved the contract on July 11 by an 8-2 vote. Tom O’Connell and Lori Dean cast “no” votes.
As outlined in the contract, which went into effect July 1, the partnership will develop public library, residential and commercial concepts for a vacant 6-acre parcel belonging to the city along Wolf River Avenue.
The city has owned the parcel for around a decade. Officials want some kind of development project, a mixed-use library being one option, that could boost the downtown’s economy and enhance quality of life.
The contract also directs the two firms to prepare cost estimates, a master schedule and market studies. They will facilitate public meetings with residents and develop financing models for the project.
The city council has not officially approved a library building or any development project yet. That would come later on after alderpeople review the partnership’s proposals, and if they find one of the three concepts a good fit for the site and affordable.
Stadtmueller said Stadtmueller & Associates will work with the city’s finance director to determine sources of financing for the project.
When his team converted an old paper mill into a mixed-use library in Kaukauna a couple years ago, they utilized grants, donations, a tax increment financing district and historic tax credits. The historic tax credits would not apply here since the building would be newly constructed.
O’Connell asked if the mixed-use project could encounter trouble obtaining financing due to competing residential projects underway in the city: the addition of 36 market-rate apartment units at Partridge Estates and 40 low-to-moderate-income units at Commonwealth Development’s Beacon Avenue Cottages.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of concern that I have about financing unless something happens to the national economy,” Stadtmueller said. “So if the fed jacks interest rates up and we’re paying 8 percent instead of 5 percent, that’s a difference. But I would say the good news is that the community is absorbing new housing successfully.”
Stadtmueller asked the economic development committee if it feels optimistic that the city could succeed in winning public support on the project, knowing that it has been discussed for years.
New London Public Library Director Ann Hunt, who attended on behalf of the library and museum board, said talks of a new library have been going on since 2000. She said she believes the public would buy in to the concept primarily because the mixed-use library building would contain commercial space and/or apartments.
“I’m more optimistic with the mixed use because then maybe the community will see the opportunities that are going to be there besides just a library building,” Hunt said. “I think that a lot of people don’t just want to spend money on a library because it’s money that’s spent that doesn’t bring [property tax revenue] back.”
Earlier in the meeting, Stadtmueller told the committee he cares about gathering the residents’ input. He said he could begin setting up interviews with stakeholders and community meetings this fall.
“I think, I guess I’m assuming, that there is a little bit of controversy about this project,” Stadtmueller said, “and it isn’t like people are shouting at one another, but I really want to understand the pulse of the community.”
He reminded committee members of an anecdote he told them in May about the pushback his team initially experienced in Kaukauna and how that later changed.
“We would hold community meetings and there were people who would come up to me and say, ‘We just hope you fail.’ They were very blunt about it,” Stadtmueller said with a laugh. “And at the dedication of the building, they came up to me and said ‘We’re so glad you succeeded.’ So there’s this whole catharsis that we have to go through to really feel like we own the project as a community, that we made good decisions about it financially, and that it’s going to contribute on a long-term basis – 100 years – to the community.”