On July 22 the Salem City Council voted to approve a lease with the Salem Alliance Church for use of their Capital Press building as a temporary library, while the library at the Civic Center is undergoing renovations.
City officials claimed in a staff report that the church-owned building "is the best and only option available to the City that meets the project schedule and site criteria."
Almost certainly that statement is wrong, for reasons I'll describe below.
I don't blame the City Council for trusting the staff report. I blame Steve Powers, the City Manager, and Kristin Retherford, the Urban Development Director, for affixing their names to what sure seems to be a misleading staff report, at best, and a purposely deceptive staff report, at worst.
Keep in mind that I searched the staff report for any mention of what the site criteria were for choosing a temporary library location. No luck.
Pretty clearly one criterion wasn't "acceptable to everybody in Salem," because the Human Rights Commission voted unanimously to oppose use of the Capital Press building, given that the Salem Alliance Church is notoriously LGBTQ-unfriendly.
The church is opposed to same-sex marriage and views same-sex sex as a sin, reportedly refusing to hire otherwise qualified LGBTQ people to work in their Broadway Coffee House, which has been boycotted by neighbors because they aren't an equal opportunity employer.
The Salem Human Rights Commission statement said that an alternative location for a temporary library should be selected even if it costs more to lease than the Capital Press building and is less efficient operationally.
In my testimony on July 22 I told the City Council that a commercial realtor here in Salem told me that yes, there certainly are alternative locations for a temporary library. And today I spoke with the realtor responsible for leasing the Liberty Plaza building in downtown Salem, Dennis Randazzo of the ProCom Commercial Group in Portland, who also told me that alternative locations exist in addition to Liberty Plaza.
Liberty Plaza was mentioned at the April meeting of the Library Renovation Subcommittee of the City Council as one of three top candidates to house a temporary library, the other two being the Capital Press building and the Vick building.
The Vick building is no longer available, but Liberty Plaza is, according to Randazzo. He told me that City staff toured Liberty Plaza, which is mostly vacant. He's very much open to discussing use of Liberty Plaza for a temporary library. It certainly seems to be an option that City officials should have taken more seriously.
Jim Scheppke, who served as director of the library for the State of Oregon for 20 years, took a look at Liberty Plaza a few days ago. He told me that in his opinion, it would make a good temporary library. He sent me this email:
Hi Brian: I went to look at Liberty Plaza today. If you are downtown you ought to have a look. I don’t know why it would not work for the temporary library. The ground floor is entirely empty with two big spaces on both sides of the foyer and offices in back. I also heard in one of the Subcommittee meetings that the basement floor is empty, but you can’t get down there.
Too bad this was not chosen. I think it could have worked. If money was short, both the Library Foundation and even the Library Advisory Board has discretionary funds that they control. They could have chipped in some extra money if they had been asked.
A missed opportunity.
Well, maybe this isn't a missed opportunity.
I believe the City Council could reconsider its decision to enter into a lease agreement with the Salem Alliance Church, which has one giant drawback: members of the LGBTQ community in Salem, along with other people who support LGBTQ rights, have said they won't use the library if it is housed in the church-owned building.
At the very least, several city councilors should discuss with Dennis Randazzo what space is available to lease in Liberty Plaza, and the cost of that space. Randazzo told me that while the owner of Liberty Plaza would like to sell the building, a two year lease for a temporary library would be entertained.
Here's some photos I took today of my own visit to Liberty Plaza.
I parked in the adjacent City of Salem parking structure. There were lots of empty spaces.
The hours shown on the skybridge door are appealing. I believe City staff have said that the library couldn't be open on Sunday if it is housed in the Capital Press building because the Salem Alliance Church generates so much traffic on Sundays.
As Randazzo told me, there are many vacant spaces in Liberty Plaza. A PDF file shows the layout of several floors, though almost certainly it isn't entirely accurate as regards current tenants, since I saw a recent notice on a vacant space about a termination of a lease agreement.
Ex-librarian Scheppke shared some additional impressions of Liberty Plaza with me.
Looking at the two big spaces on the ground floor, it looked to me like you could put the children’s dept. in the space to the left as you enter and put a selection of adult books in the space to the right along with public internet computers. There is a nice service desk already there in the space on the left.
And there's plenty of evidence that space exists to lease.
I and other supporters of LGBTQ rights in Salem want very much for the City Council to take a more active role in assessing alternatives to the church-owned building, assuming one or more councilors are interested in reconsidering the vote on the Salem Alliance Church lease -- which got very little discussion at the July 22 meeting, especially considering that almost all of the public testimony was in opposition to the Capital Press lease.
Also, 289 people have signed my "Stand Up for LGBTQ Rights in Salem!" petition in support of the Human Rights Commission.
So it sure seems like a full disclosure of the cost of using Liberty Plaza as a temporary library needs to be made to Salem citizens, along with the pros and cons of Liberty Plaza and the Capital Press building.
I readily admit that I don't trust City of Salem staff to do this, because they have shown a decided preference for using the Salem Alliance Church property -- for reasons that aren't entirely clear.
I'd like to see a offer sheet from the owners of Liberty Plaza that details what spaces would be available for a temporary library, along with the cost and terms of a two-year lease.
Then the City Council could make an informed decision between Liberty Plaza and the Capital Press building, ideally along with several other viable alternative locations.