Storytime at the downtown Vancouver library, held on several weekday mornings, is one of the building's most bustling times. It's also when library patrons might have the most difficulty finding a parking spot.
It wasn't supposed to be this way, but library officials and patrons are making do with fewer than expected parking spaces and a building entrance that's located a city block away from the parking lot.
"Most of the time people can find a free, two-hour spot," Vancouver Community Library building manager Karin Ford said, but, "there are times when it's a challenge."
The original plan was to build an underground parking garage at the same time the library was being built, and that garage would include 200 public parking spaces, but the Great Recession prevented developers from moving forward as planned. That
parking garage could still be built a few years from now, but its future depends on the outcome of a bill in Olympia that would preserve a state subsidy for the garage's developers.
The library is supposed to be a cornerstone in the Library Square project, formerly called the Riverwest project. In addition to building an underground garage, the endeavor would increase Vancouver's urban feel by constructing tall buildings for offices, apartments and retailers, as well as a pedestrian-friendly plaza. Without the state subsidy, developers likely will move forward with a scaled-back version of the project with a smaller office building and a surface parking lot that's not accessible to library visitors.
Supporters of Library Square have stressed to lawmakers that it's now or never to pass a bill to help the struggling project. The legislative fix, introduced by state Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, would essentially delay the construction deadline developers must meet before losing the state subsidy. Under the current rules, they would have to start building next year, but they aren't on track to do so.
Those developers, Killian Pacific in Vancouver, were selected for the state's Local Infrastructure Financing Tool program, which gives local governments a sales and use tax credit to spend toward economic development projects. The program started in 2006, and LIFT money has been approved for projects in nine cities across the state.
"The market's not there yet for this high-density project," said Chad Eiken, community and economic development director for the city of Vancouver. "What we're asking the state to do is give us a little more of a buffer to let the market return … and we'll have a much better project in the end."
Wylie's bill came close to passing before lawmakers' regular session ended last month. Wylie said she hopes the bill can pass during a special legislative session that begins Monday. The special session is required because state lawmakers have yet to come to an agreement on the state's operating budget.
"The bill will be worked on, and we will do our very best to get it through this special session," Wylie said. She added that the bill might get more momentum because a project in Mount Vernon is having a similar issue with LIFT deadlines.
When voters approved money in 2006 for the new library in downtown Vancouver, they thought the underground garage was part of the deal. Ford said she hopes community leaders can come together to fulfill that promise.
Roughly 1,500 people use the library each day, library officials estimate, but many of them are making quick trips instead of visiting for hours. "There's often constant turnover and the cars just keep coming in and out," Ford, the building manager, said.
The downtown Vancouver library, located at C Street and East Evergreen Boulevard, has a lot with 64 free, two-hour spaces, and there are 36 free, two-hour diagonal slots on West Reserve Street, as well as metered parking on nearby blocks.
One of the biggest complaints Ford said she receives is that the only entrance to the library is located on the opposite side of the building from the parking lot, forcing most patrons to walk the length of a city block just to get inside. Some visitors ask why a door can't be added to the back of the library, right next to the parking lot. The short answer, Ford said, is that the engineering of the building simply won't support it.
The library also worked with the city of Vancouver to convert nearby street parking into handicap spots (also, vehicles with handicap placards can park in any metered city spot for four hours for free). Additionally, the library has strict rules against staff members using parking spaces. Many either rent a parking space in a nearby lot or park at the old library at the corner of East Mill Plain Boulevard and Fort Vancouver Way. Getting to the library from there is about a 10-minute walk.
"It's not always easy in bad weather and at night, but they do it," Ford said.
The lot isn't always too full, Ford emphasized, but there are challenges when big events take place in the building. For daylong events at the library, visitors are encouraged to pay $4 a day at a nearby parking garage by the Regal City Center Stadium 12 theater.
Ford said library officials haven't yet discussed a backup plan to improve parking if the Library Square project moves forward without the underground garage.
"We're still confident that the development's going to happen," Ford said. It's also important to note, she said, that "if the legislation passes, the development is not going to start immediately. It just gives (Killian Pacific) a larger window of opportunity" to build.
Return on investment
According to estimates provided by the city of Vancouver, completing the original Library Square plan will give a much bigger boost to the economy and government revenue than a scaled-back version of the project would. The original project, over 25 years, would increase:
• state revenue by $22.7 million;
• city of Vancouver revenue by nearly $8 million;
• Vancouver Public Schools revenue by nearly $6 million; and
• Clark County revenue by $2.3 million.
By comparison, a scaled-back version of the project, over 25 years, would increase:
• state revenue by $8.2 million;
• city of Vancouver revenue by $1.7 million;
• Vancouver Public Schools revenue by $1.3 million; and
• Clark County revenue by $470,000.
There's a little-known spot in the downtown Vancouver library, past locked elevator doors and one floor underground. That elevator opens to a room featuring glass windows and doors, but the doors don't lead to an exit. They lead to a concrete wall.
Right now, they're doors to nowhere. But library officials and patrons hope that concrete wall will eventually come down, and those doors will finally open to that underground parking garage. Killian Pacific hopes so, too.
"We remain fully committed to the vision of Library Square and will continue to think creatively and work diligently to make it happen," said Lance Killian, the company's president. "But the project is subject to market forces and conditions to occupy the buildings that would be constructed."
Ford said Killian Pacific has shown dedication to the project and to the Vancouver community. The company donated the land for the new library. The library's current parking lot — a temporary solution to provide parking to library visitors — is located on Killian Pacific's land.
Wylie's bill 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.