Press Release: ULI’s Tentative Recommendation to Keep MLK a Library

November 20, 2011
Contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

ULI’s Tentative Recommendation to Keep MLK a Library

Washington, DC — It has taken 12 years, but library advocates appear to have scored a partial victory in the struggle to restore and improve the long-degraded Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library building and to keep it as the location of the city’s central library.

Over a decade ago, in 2000, award-wining local architect Kent Cooper and the Urban Design Committee of the American Institute of Architects released their pro bono study of how to correct the MLK library’s long acknowledged design flaws.  Though cited often in the years since, the AIA/Cooper study was ignored by then-Mayor Williams, who wanted a new library on the old convention center site.

Earlier this year, DC Public Library (DCPL) hired the Urban Land Institute (ULI), at a cost of $120,000, to do another MLK study – this time exploring ways to “leverage” the value of the building in order to afford to build a new central library or find ways to pay for renovation to the 40-year-old landmark, which was designed by Mies van der Rohe.

The ULI’s preliminary report, presented on Friday, favors co-tenancy, either residential or office, over sale.  

Ironically, their design suggestions relied heavily on the AIA/Cooper 2000 report solutions, including what appears to be uncredited use of the drawings.  

That the central library is likely to remain in the MLK building comes as a relief to library activists. But they’re disappointed that the ULI panel proposed shrinking the city’s central library from its current 440,000 sq ft to about 225,000 sq ft. to accommodate a co-tenant. Smaller central libraries are supposedly a “trend,” but most of the acclaimed new central libraries, built in recent years in cities comparable to DC, are substantially larger than 225,000 sq ft.

Moreover, the report by the panel’s financial expert, Mike Reynolds of the Concord Group, depicted the District’s financial health as excellent. This undercut the central premise of the panel’s work: that the District must find ways to “leverage” the value of MLK building.

In his brief presentation, Reynolds did not even mention the city’s AAA bond rating, the $180 million taxpayer investment in beautiful transformations of 14 neighborhood libraries across the city over the past five years, or the announcement by Library Trustees President John Hill on Wednesday that another $100-million-plus is expected from the FY 2013 round of capital budget planning to rebuild the remaining 10 branches.

Residents may wonder why a city doing so well can’t afford to renovate its historic central library. They might address that question to the DC officials listed below — and perhaps cc ULI Chair Wayne Ratkovich, who might include that query in the ULI’s final report to be issued in 60 days.

Library Committee Chair Tommy Wells (Ward 6), [email protected]

Finance and Revenue Committee Chair Jack Evans (Ward 2) [email protected]

Library Trustees President John Hill, [email protected]

Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper [email protected]

Mayor Vincent Gray  [email protected]

Wayne Ratkovich, Chair, ULI Panel  [email protected]



Press Release: Ralph Nader Asks Mayor Gray to Appoint Citizens Task Force on MLK

November 18, 2011
Contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

Ralph Nader Asks Mayor Gray to Appoint Citizens Task Force on MLK

Washington, DC — Ralph Nader and Robin Diener of the Library Renaissance Project have asked Mayor Gray to appoint a Citizens Task Force on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, in a letter of November 16.  The Project has been calling for a citizen-based look at possibilities for the central library since 2006 after legislation to sell MLK backed by then-Mayor Anthony Williams was defeated. 

The renewed call for a citizen task force is particularly timely since Library officials, who have repeatedly rejected the suggestion as “premature,” have now out of the blue commissioned a study of the MLK Library by the Urban Land Institute (ULI).  The ULI will release a full report in 60 days but made public its preliminary findings today:

The ULI study has come under fire for having no local residents on its panel, for being costly ($120,000) at a time when the city was scraping bottom to find the $318,00 needed to keep MLK open on Sundays, and for being biased towards a predetermined outcome.

Text of letter follows:

The Honorable Vincent Gray
Mayor, District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20004

November 16, 2011

Dear Mayor Gray:

Library Trustees President John Hill recently announced the recruitment of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to “assess” the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library building.

Unlike the American Institute of Architects Urban Design Committee study of MLK in 2000 performed pro-bono, ULI is charging the Library $120,000 for its study. Just a month ago, we were searching for $318,000 to keep MLK open on Sundays.

Further, we learned that no District residents will be seated on the panel. While we might understand having “fresh eyes on” the situation, we don’t accept the disenfranchisement of residents and library users from assessing the “value” of their central library building.

In 2005, District citizens and their representatives, including you, rejected legislation to dispose of the MLK building. Ever since, our organization and others have called for a Citizen Task Force on the Future of MLK to plan and fundraise for a renewed central library.  Library officials have repeatedly rejected this idea as “premature.”

Now, out of the blue, Library officials say a new “review” is needed.  If so, it should be delivered to a Citizen Task Force as part of comprehensive planning for the remainder of the library system — including MLK.  The library system, a ready-made network of “town halls” throughout the city, is ideally suited to gathering input.

Five years into the “Transformation” of the DC Public Library system, much has been accomplished. Let us now take the opportunity to evaluate the transformation and plan the renewal of the remainder of the system, including MLK central library.

We call upon you, Mr. Mayor, to appoint and convene The Citizen Task Force on MLK that, among other things, would consider any ULI findings or recommendations.


Ralph Nader, Founder                                      Robin Diener, Director

No DC Residents on MLK Advisory Panel

November 9, 2011
contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

No DC Residents on MLK Advisory Panel

Washington, DC — None of the eight panelists named to participate in an assessment of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) live in or near the District of Columbia, according to descriptions on the DC Public Library (DCPL) website.

Five of the eight are based in California. The closest is from Richmond.

The panelists are leading a process to “assess and review the value” of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library building, and to “make recommendations on how to leverage the value of the building to benefit the District of Columbia,” according to a DCPL press release. The process will consist of interviews conducted by the ULI panel with parties invited by Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper. Only invited parties will have the opportunity to be interviewed by the panel.

DC residents and library users are, however, invited to direct comments to the Board of Library Trustees on Wednesday November 16 at 6 PM at the Southwest Library, located at 900 Wesley Place, SW, a short walk from the Waterfront metro stop. Comments can be emailed to [email protected]

The public is also invited to the ULI panel’s presentation of findings and recommendations on Friday November 18 from 9 to 11 AM in the Great Hall of the MLK Library, located at 901 G Street, NW, a short walk from either Metro Center or Gallery Place metro stops.

Sent from Robin Diener
Director, Library Renaissance Project
1530 P Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
202 431-9254

Tommy Wells Announces Book Discussion Group

Councilmember Tommy Wells, Chair of the Libraries, Parks, Recreation and Planning Committee has chosen Triumph of the City, by Edward Glaeser as the first selection for his Tommy’s Traveling Book Club. The inaugural session is scheduled for Monday December 5th at 6:30 PM at the Shaw/Watha T. Daniel Library. Joining him in leading the discussion will be Harriet Tregoning, Director of the DC Office of Planning. The book club is a joint partnership with the Federation of Friends of the Library and will meet quarterly at different libraries around the city.

The public is invited to participate.

Click on the below link for information and to sign up for the initial meeting

Triumph of the City is nonfiction, intended for the general reader.  Edward Glaeser is an economist based at Harvard.  The book argues that cities attract dense concentrations of educated people who collaboratively innovate, create jobs, drive investment, keep rents low, and expend less energy per capita.  Marshaling history, anecdote, and economics, the author creates what has been called a “paean to the city.”