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Library project tests Madison’s patience

By Paul Snyder

Certainty could cost the Madison Common Council as it weighs whether to commit to a Central Library project now or delay construction until the money shows up.

“One of the reasons the $37 million estimate is down from the $43 million that was talked about before is because of the construction climate right now,” said Tripp Widder, president of the city’s Library Board. “If we end up waiting on this, there’s a good chance we lose the reduced price.”

But three city aldermen are promoting the virtue of patience. Paul Skidmore, Michael Schumacher and Jed Sanborn are sponsoring a capital budget amendment that would prevent Madison from signing library development and construction agreements until the city gets tax credits and $4 million in private donations.

The city already is seeking $10 million in donations for the project within three years, but the Library Board has predicted it will take longer. Widder said it could take two years to nail down the $4 million.

Bill Kunkler, executive vice president of Madison-based The Fiore Companies Inc., which is developing the library project, was unavailable to comment on whether a construction delay would increase the cost.

The city deserves to know when the money will arrive before Madison starts borrowing for construction, Skidmore said.

“We need an indication we’re going to get some of the money,” he said. “I think what we’re doing is reasonable.”

The city faces a $193.3 million capital budget proposal that relies on $103 million in borrowed money. The library amendment is one of 13 new capital budget amendments the Madison Common Council will consider Tuesday when it starts reviewing the city’s overall 2010 budget.

If the council adopts the library amendment, Madison could lose the project, Widder said.

“Not only do you run the risk of losing favorable construction costs, you also make it tough to build,” he said. “The tax credit financing they want secured is the kind you can’t get unless lenders know the project is a go. You need the agreements in place to get that financing.”

Banks are reluctant to loan money for projects, Widder said, but if the city acts quickly and approves the project, Madison could get as much as $6.5 million in tax credits. If the city dawdles, he said, the tax credits could dwindle while the project estimates rise.

But council members are trying to take control of city spending in the 2010 budget, and taxpayers need to be protected, Schumacher said.

“If you’re going to make the claim that $10 million is going to take a long time to raise, I feel like you’re making the case for this amendment,” he said. “People should know we mean business.”

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