Although the Logan Redevelopment Agency meeting originally scheduled for Tuesday evening has been cancelled due to COVID-19 prevention recommendations, the discussion of downtown revitalization remains a topic of concern for many Logan residents.
Since the RDA meeting at the beginning of the month, which featured a 3-hour public hearing about the future of the Emporium block, residents have been garnering support for alternative plans and are asking questions about the Logan Library’s future, which has been a discussion topic for close to two decades.
For a time, the plan was to put the library in the Emporium lot, and some people are hoping to revive that idea.
A couple weeks ago, Logan Municipal Council Member Jess Bradfield put out a poll on Facebook asking people to choose what they would do with $15 million. The choices included many of the proposed ideas to replace the Emporium, including a museum, a library, a splash pad/plaza, high density housing development, a parking garage and others.
Nearly 300 people responded to the Facebook post, after which Bradfield gathered the answers and displayed the results in a pie chart.
A new library was the front-runner at 24% with comments citing the average of 600 visitors that frequent the library as a reason to make it the priority.
“I’m trying to make sure the city’s priorities are aligned with the resident’s priorities,” Bradfield said. “I appreciate all of the efforts the city has put into the current plan but I would be remiss if we didn’t address the topic that started all of this.”
Bradfield was referring to the library, it being part of the discussion from the time the city first purchased the Emporium property.
In April 2016, the Logan Municipal Council voted unanimously to purchase the Emporium property. Then-Mayor Craig Petersen read from a prepared statement that evening about the hope to use that space for a library.
“One approach is to wait for the unassisted private sector to rejuvenate this space. But 40 years of history in the Emporium casts doubt on that happening in the near future,” Petersen said. “How long should we persist with a dead spot in the core of downtown Logan? I believe that a better option is for the city to purchase the property and either use it for a library or, if another location is determined preferable for a library, to aggressively work with and incentivize private parties to develop the space for commercial activity.”
Council Member Tom Jensen said there have been many discussions since that meeting four years ago, which included considerations for space and expenses.
“As consultants were brought in, including library consultants and architectural consultants, along with a public outcry against the idea, it was determined that the library would not be the right fit,” Jensen said. “Architectural consultants said the building didn’t provide the access or type of configuration that would suit the library. The building itself is not seismically sound and a new use for the space would mean a costly upgrade.”
Jensen said there were a number of reasons that community members brought up against the library going in that spot, including the opinion that a multistory building could prove uncomfortable or inconvenient for parents with young children.
Jensen said he also remembers pushback on the idea that the library would be good for downtown because people would go downtown for the library and linger around the other shops.
“As a number of people have pointed out, patrons who come to the library are not necessarily looking for shoes or dresses,” Jensen said. “Going to the library generally means you go, pick up books and go home. I was really excited about the library being in that spot in the beginning, but as more and more people argued against it, I could see it wouldn’t work by the evidence that came out.”
The first time a sans-library plan for the Emporium plot was presented was in September 2019 when one of the early renderings of the city’s plaza model was introduced.
“When we did the study for a new library the square footage was 40,000, so it would be very difficult to place a library in the footprint of the current Emporium location with housing on top — and we would still have other parking issues,” said Council Member Jeannie Simmonds, responding to questions about the possibility of a new library during the recent public hearing.
Logan resident Keegan Garrity helped facilitate conversations about the library project on both social media and in public meetings. Garrity argues that there is in fact enough space for a library in that spot.
“The question that we are asking here is, ‘What draws people to downtown?” Garrity said in the recent RDA public hearing. “If we are looking for something guaranteed to draw residents downtown, we need to look no further than a library.”
Citing a Gallup survey done last year which revealed that attending the library was the most enjoyed activity by people in the U.S., Garrity stood by the idea that a library in the Emporium lot would most benefit Logan residents.
“Despite its dilapidated condition, people still come,” Garrity said about the current library. “After the purchase of the Emporium in 2016, several other sites have been considered such as the Grizzly gas station and the Army surplus store, and now another location is in the works. While I am hopeful that it will come to fruition, I am worried we will see yet another location pass us by. And if it does, where does it go? We need a resolution in months, not years.”
Garrity said even beyond the popularity of the library, it wouldn’t impact the parking agreement made by the city and block owners decades ago, meaning no litigation.
With Tuesday evening’s RDA meeting cancelled and future meetings scheduled but uncertain, Jensen said the council will continue to read emails from the public on the subject and continue the conversation.
“I think once we reach a decision for this project, we can sort of refocus and get the library back on the front burner,” Jensen said.