At the Library Oversight Hearing on February 19, DC Council Education Committee Chair David Catania attempted to get a fix on how much it will cost to renovate the MLK Library. It wasn’t easy to get a straight answer.
Just four days earlier, at the first and only citywide public forum where three competing designs for the renovation of MLK were presented, DCPL’s facilitator stressed that the design forum was “about choosing an architect, not a design.” Yet, at the oversight hearing, DCPL’s Director of Capital Projects Jeff Bonvechio explained that he couldn’t provide an answer to Catania’s question because DCPL is still “in the process of costing out the winning design.” In spite of these contradictory statements by DCPL representatives, the Committee Chair pursued his question.
DCPL’s Bonvechio said further that cost estimates from 2012 were $250 million, $103m of which has been allocated by the Mayor (in fiscal years 2017 and 18).
Noting the $150m shortfall, Catania asked how the additional money would be found. Bonvechio responded, “The way to bridge that gap is by bringing on a development partner.”
The Chair asked what the sale of air rights to a developer would raise. The number turns out to be $40m, only, leaving a gap of more than $100m.
Catania appeared impatient, “You seem to be pretty far down the track having selected an architect, having selected a plan. Yet, you don’t have the money in place.”
He asked how the gap would be filled. The options, according to Bonvechio, are “additional city funding or from a deep pocketed donor.” With that, Catania abandoned the line of questioning.
It is the pursuit of a mythical developer or deep pocketed donor that has kept DCPL from doing the planning needed to cultivate multiple donors, possible sponsors of naming rights, or other public/public partnerships such as the DC Archives (with $42m attached to it in the capital budget for a new building).
Moreover, the $40m projected sale of MLK air rights would have to be for all of the air rights over MLK (8 stories or more), not just the three additional stories of the newly selected library design. In the West End, more land and full air rights (minus a one story library and firehouse) were swapped for only $20m (to be paid for in construction). Why would a smaller amount over MLK bring in more?
Financial planning demands that we know exactly what is for sale over MLK. No one has defined it. If we don’t know that, how do we know how much can be raised from the proposed sale of air rights being contemplated?
However, what is most important to us, at Library Renaissance Project, is do the people of the District of Columbia want to sell the air rights over their central library? That is their call, and should be the first question answered before any financial planning or building design development.