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Here's what you need to know about the library's expansion plans

Here's what you need to know about the library's expansion plans

Plans to expand the Rochester Public Library at its present downtown location are moving forward for city approval.

When the Destination Medical Center development plan was first unveiled, the library's current structure was conspicuously missing from the designs, launching speculation that its current location at 101 2nd Street Southeast was in jeopardy. 

How much of the plan will be implemented — and whether it is treated as a blueprint or just a loose framework — is still up in the air.

Graphic: Rendering of downtown waterfront / DMC Development Plan

But one issue is not up for discussion: The library needs more space. “We’ve turned down partnerships and we’ve struggled to find space,” said library director Audrey Betcher. “We would do more programming if we had more space."

Almost 600,000 people came through the library’s doors in 2015, a figure that’s expected to grow as DMC picks up steam.

The original library plans, drafted in the early 1990s, called for three stories in order to accommodate projected demand through 2015. Last-minute budget cuts left the library with its current structure.

Now, ambitious expansion plans call for a $55 million two-story addition, a price tag that exceeds the current value of the building, according to Betcher. “Libraries don’t make money; they’re an investment in the community."


But John Hunziker, who served as city council president from 1994 through 2004, and retired as communications manager for the library in August 2015, believes the extra space is long overdue.

“When it was cut, the idea was that we were going to add on an extra story five years later,” Hunziker said.

Community members have suggested other options ­— opening library branches, acquiring another downtown parcel or building a new structure outside of the downtown core — but Betcher said that all three options are unfeasible given current constraints.

Despite their success in Minneapolis and other large cities, library branches are not a fiscally prudent option for Rochester. “You don’t really add anything new to the table,” Betcher said, citing the added facilities and staffing costs of a library branch.

The city’s quadrant system further complicates implementing a library branch system. “I suspect there would be quite a lively discussion on where a branch would go,”she said.

Graphic: Rendering / Rochester Public Library

Moreover, speculative downtown land prices have nixed hopes of acquiring a parcel for building a new library. “Because of the growth, it becomes very expensive to buy a new piece of land,” Betcher said.

Leaving downtown isn’t an option either. “Being downtown means that [the library] is accessible for people that don’t have a car,” Betcher said. “We already have a lot of the infrastructure that the city has invested in this location.”

In addition to city funds, the library also plans to seek a partnership with Olmsted County and private donations. “People want to help, but they want to know what the city is doing,” Hunziker said.

Betcher will present the library’s expansion plans at the Rochester City Council meeting on March 14 and encourages the public to attend. 


About Claire Walling: Claire is a contributing editor for the Med City Beat. She moved to Rochester two years ago from the Twin Cities after graduating from Hamline University. When she’s not working as a business writer she enjoys running the great trails around the region, designing and creating things, and drinking coffee. Fun fact: she was on a relay team that ran across Iowa in 54 hoursTwitter.

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