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Library choice challenges city budget

Paul Snyder
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A lack of money might force Madison to forsake its preference to accept the most expensive building option for a new Central Library.

“If we can get our ducks in a row, we can be in a good position to take advantage of the construction market right now,” said Alderman Mike Verveer. “In taking this to the council, I certainly would argue that time is of the essence.”

But Verveer, a member of the city’s Library Surplus Committee, said he does not know when the Common Council will discuss the new library. The committee is recommending a $43.6 million Central Library as part of an estimated $75 million mixed-use plan by Madison-based The Fiore Cos. Inc.

The project won out over an estimated $40 million mixed-use proposal by Madison-based T. Wall Properties LLC and a plan to renovate the existing library. Fiore’s proposal offers the best opportunity for Madison, Verveer said.

It also poses a big financial dilemma.

To date, the city has committed $1.7 million for the project as part of the 2009 budget. A report by the Madison Public Library Foundation last month said it could take five years to raise just $10 million for the library project.

Lee Ferderer, senior vice president of the Fiore Cos., said the city and Fiore could take advantage of federal bonds and tax credits for the project, but that would require a city commitment soon.

“There’s certainly a window of opportunity right now,” he said. “We’re eager to tackle the project today, and some of bonds we’re looking at are going to be issued by the end of 2010.”

Although Verveer said he wants the city to decide as quickly as possible, attaining the $43.6 million for Fiore’s proposal will not be easy, especially with city budget talks looming.

“We need a fairy godmother or fairy godfather to come forward,” Verveer said. “My hope is that in negotiations with city staff, Fiore can get the costs to come down.”

Ferderer said that can happen.

“We’re just at the conceptual design point,” he said. “We’re still at a place where we can do more than just sharpening the pencil. We can look into things like value engineering, plug in numbers for interior work. We have a real opportunity right now to look hard at the project and find some cost savings.”

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has said he wants the city to consider challenging projects instead of shying away from large price tags. But his spokeswoman Rachel Strauch-Nelson said it is too soon to say what money the city can immediately provide.

“I know Fiore’s looking at a number of financing options,” she said. “We’re prepared to start our budget process, and we’ll explore the options we have.”

Both Verveer and Ferderer said many city officials reacted positively to the project and have the will to see it happen.

But whether they have the cash is another matter, Verveer said.

“Money is the big issue here,” he said. “It has been since the beginning, and it still is.”

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