Library Square a step closer to reality

Project that includes parking garage getsa legislative boost

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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A new parking garage at the Vancouver Community Library looked more likely this week, when a bill to boost the Library Square project passed through the state's House and Senate. The measure still requires Gov. Jay Inslee's signature.

It would extend construction deadlines for a state program that subsidizes the Library Square project. The project's developer, Killian Pacific, was knocked off schedule because of the recession.

Killian hopes to build an underground parking garage, a pedestrian-friendly plaza, and buildings for offices, apartments and retail uses near the downtown library at C Street and East Evergreen Boulevard. If the construction deadline is not extended, developers would lose certain tax benefits. As a result, they say they would build a scaled-back version of the project without the parking garage.

Library patrons have embraced the new downtown landmark but hate its small, inconvenient parking lot. The lot fills quickly, and library employees aren't allowed to park there.

The bill that extends the Library Square deadline was close to passing in late April, near the end of the regular legislative session, but a last-minute amended raised concerns, and the bill died. Lawmakers resurrected the bill during the Legislature's second special session.

There was some disagreement this week as to whether the bill should pass. Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Olympia, said Wednesday on the House floor that the state should reconsider the subsidy in light of the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision, which ordered lawmakers to invest more dollars in public education.

"This is truly the post-McCleary era," Reykdal said. "We need to rethink every day our contributions. … (The subsidy) is money not available to basic education."

Later, Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, asked the chamber to support the bill. He said the Legislature needs to be more cautious about how it spends its money, but the state projects that benefit from the subsidy are already moving forward; they just need more time.

"The community of Vancouver," Carlyle said, "has taken extra efforts to be thoughtful. … They have not finished, and candidly, they need help."

The bill passed in the House, 73-14. It passed 43-4 in the Senate on Thursday (two senators were excused from voting).

The Library Square parking garage would include 200 free parking spaces for library visitors, and an elevator to bring them into the library's lobby. Voters approved money for the library with the promise it would come with that parking garage.

According to estimates provided by the city of Vancouver, completing the original Library Square plan would, over 25 years, raise the city of Vancouver's revenue by $1.7 million and Clark County revenue by $2.3 million.

Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, introduced the Library Square bill in the House. It was co-sponsored by state Reps. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, and Liz Pike, R-Camas. The Senate version of that bill was sponsored by Sens. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, and Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com.