At the first city council meeting of the year, Jan. 7, city council members seemed dismayed to learn the library no longer wants to move forward with plans to share space with city hall and the police department.
Since 2017, the City has been discussing the possibility of selling City Hall to a developer and moving the administrative offices and police department to the library. The idea was to develop a shared municipal building on the library’s property.
But within the last year, the library hired Carmen Patlan as their new executive director and Patlan is not keen to give up programming space to build jail cells.
A lot of conversations were happening between individuals, and the library board voted to start a capital campaign to raise funds for the library, so city manager Scott Coren asked the library to come to January’s council meeting to discuss the situation with everyone at the table.
Library president Lucy Hospodarsky stood before city council and said, “We have a great situation now. Once [Patlan] came on board, she implemented our strategic plan, which was to give the library a new momentum and increase the relevance of the library to this community. And along with that, we’ve outgrown our space.”
Lucy said Patlan is full of energy and has set the ambitious goal to fundraise about $1.5 million in the next year to fund a full renovation of the library’s facility. Patlan’s plans include providing STEM related resources and pushing the front of the library out to the sidewalk to allow space for study rooms and more education-related programming.
“My goal is to decrease some of the collection and increase the learning space for the community,” Patlan said. “So I do have some funding in the pipeline already, but it will be very, very difficult for me to secure funding if I say that under the same roof we have a police department and the city of Highwood. So, we’re coming here to share this information with you.”
“We would like to continue growing the library services,” Lucy said. “And we know we can because we’ve come this far in 10 months. Our request is to consider that the library is a great asset to the community… we could continue to develop the library, and we would like for the council to consider supporting us.”
This means city hall would need to find someplace else to relocate if it wants to support the library’s capital campaign and still sell its current building to a developer.
Alderman Brad Slavin jumped in first. “What I’m hearing today is 180 degrees from where I last left this conversation, and I’m taken aback by it. And I’m really surprised. Not in a positive way.”
When Patlan suggested she wanted to be nothing but collaborative on this, Slavin interrupted her. “It’s not collaborative, because this is not the direction you were given. This is not why we passed the levy*,” Slavin said.
*What is a Levy? It’s the amount of money the library district requests from the total property tax. A levy increase or decrease does not necessarily mean your taxes are changing.
Lucy replied, “The collaboration is really what we’re doing right now. We’re coming and we’re presenting these new circumstances.”
“Can I interrupt for one second?” alderman Eric Falberg said. “We’re not going to change anything on what ifs and what you think you’re going to get. If you get it, then there’s a conversation we can have. But I’m not changing everything on a what if. It’s a lot more money than you think. It’s not as easy to get as you think.”
It’s been a two year process already trying to move city hall. The city’s goal has been to make the city hall property viable for development and that has required three things. One, a boundary relocation agreement with Highland Park (which took 18 months but was just passed in December). Two, a TIF extension (a TIF redirects property taxes to develop “blighted” property) which is going to the state legislature this quarter. And three, a relocation plan (which was to create a shared space in the library up until now).
Mayor Charlie Pecaro expects that once Highwood gets the TIF extension, the clock will be ticking to redevelop city hall (most likely) into luxury condos. Pecaro said if they give up the shared building plan, there’s no turning back.
“If we let you go, then we let you go,” Pecaro said. “We are going to have to go somewhere else… You cut us off at the legs already saying ‘we don’t want you.’ And you’ve limited your ability to grow. You limited your options. Best of luck to you, but you have one play now. And I think that was short sighted. I really do.”
“So the plan is over?” alderman James Levi asked in reference to the shared municipal building.
“Yes,” Falberg replied.
“Okay, so then we don’t need to beat the dead horse anymore,” Levi said. And that concluded the meeting.