Forest Home Library Replacement Decided, Mill Road Deferred

By Michael Horne, Urban Milwaukee, Dec 18, 2014

The Forest Home branch of the Milwaukee Public Library would move to a historic building, according to a vote by the Board of Trustees of the Milwaukee Public Library on Wednesday, December 17th.

The winning proposal by Gorman & Co / Mitchell Investment Properties VJS Construction calls for replacing the Forest Home branch library with a location in the historic Hill building at 930 W. Mitchell St.

The alternative plan under consideration, advanced by Cardinal Capital Group / Journey House, called for new construction on S. Cesar Chavez Drive. That proposal drew considerable community support at a public hearing held by the library’s Building Committee at the Forest Home Library on Tuesday, December 2nd.

However, it had many more moving parts than the relatively straightforward Mitchell Street proposal.

The Cardinal Capital / Journey House plan called for the demolition of an existing dental office building on the busy shopping street and replacing it with the library and coffee shop at the street level. In addition, it called for the development of subsidized housing above as well as rather inexplicit investments in properties in the immediate neighborhood. The proposal had the support of Ald. Jose Perez, whose district encompasses both of the proposed locations.

The Gorman proposal offered a nearly move-in-ready building, market rate apartments, and Historic Tax Credits.

The Gorman plan, too, has a number of parts, but they are well greased. The Historic Tax Credit program has proven to be a most effective lubricant when you’re fracking for capital.

But you need a historic building first to mine this golden egg, and a demolished Dental Associates clinic would not fit the bill.

The building committee, when it earlier considered the proposals, did not meet a resolution of the matter, and it came before the full board, although both proposals had been declared dead by some reports.

The 12 member library board is chaired by John Gurda, who took time after the meeting (writing from the library) to share these comments with Urban Milwaukee readers about the board’s decision:

“… We approved Gorman & Co’s. proposal to replace the Forest Home branch with a new library on the first floor of the Hill Building and market-rate apartments above. Simply put, there’s a lot to like about the project. The Hill Building has great bones, and it’s on the National Register, with ample dedicated parking and a prominent location on Mitchell Street, the South Side’s downtown since the late 1800s. The building is also literally across the street from one of the largest parochial grade schools (St. Anthony’s) in the country, and the use of historic preservation tax credits will enable us to get more library for our money. When you put it all together, this is going to be a genuinely catalytic project that will bring Third Ward-caliber energy to the heart of the South Side.”

Brooke VandeBerg, the Communications and Marketing Director for the library, said the board also made these conclusions about the Gorman proposal:

The Gorman project:

•​Has now clearly defined the second use for the development with market rate housing, which is complementary to a library and a catalytic project for the area.

•​Is proposed for a location (930 W. Mitchell St.) that is central to the service area, in a prominent business district and allows for parking when using the facility

•The project can move expeditiously and be completed within a short time frame. The library and apartments can be developed simultaneously; and,

•The developer has a secure funding strategy and will pursue Historic Tax Credits for the entire project. ​

 

The board made the right decision, in my opinion. The Journey House proposal helped put the urgency of redevelopment of S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr. in the forefront, as has the Urban Placemaking initiatives of Newaukee, including an artist-in-residence for the street. But the project it proposed for the site seemed to have too many variables, imponderables and contingent pieces.

But put together, they demonstrate the need for investment in that commercial corridor. Perhaps just not in a project anchored by a library branch.

The Gorman proposal will provide an anchor for the Mitchell Street commercial district, which, at its heyday, was as vital as any in the nation.

The library board also expressed guarded interest in a proposal for the redevelopment of the Mill Road branch.

According to VandeBerg:

Motion was made and adopted to express interest in the proposed concept presented by Maures Development/Common Bond/Engberg Anderson developer team for the redevelopment of Mill Road library at 7717 W. Good Hope Rd. Before a final decision is made the Board directed staff to:

•​Seek more input about the suggested second use through community meetings hosted by local Aldermen;

•Ensure that the city-owned parcel (7717 W. Good Hope Rd.) is viable for both a library and housing as a second use.

•Review the results of a developer’s market study and environmental study for the feasibility of both affordable housing and market rate housing on the site, and review the 2008 Department of City Development Northwest Side Area Plan.

•Meet with local Aldermen and report to the Board on the findings.

One Other Matter to be Decided:

It occurs to me we are going to have two branch libraries in desperate need of new names, since neither will be located on its eponymous thoroughfare in the future.

“Good Hope Library” might be a good fit, especially since it has a rather uplifting lilt to it.

“Mitchell Street Branch” does have a certain authority to it, as well. But there may be other than street name choices available.

This might be a good community involvement project. Or, perhaps we could monetize it.

Is the city ready to sell naming rights for public buildings? Here might be the chance! How about La Biblioteca El Rey. Come up with something better, if you can.