Boise & Garden City

The next Downtown library may be grand. But it's costly. And The Cabin could suffer.

A funnel-shaped outdoor plaza along River Street forms the entrance to the main building in Safdie Architects’ design for Boise’s new main library.
A funnel-shaped outdoor plaza along River Street forms the entrance to the main building in Safdie Architects’ design for Boise’s new main library.

The city of Boise unveiled artist's renderings and a three-dimensional model of its proposed new Downtown library on Tuesday — a key public step in advancing what could be a $100 million project.

Mayor David Bieter and City Council members praised the plan at the council's midday meeting.

"You've really outdone yourself," Councilman T.J. Thomson told the design team. "It's really beautiful and unique and really signature of Boise and the direction we want to go with our buildings."

But the event left unanswered several key questions, among them:

Where will library users park?

What will happen to The Cabin, a writing academy that leases a nearly 80-year-old city-owned building south of the existing library on Capitol Boulevard?

And how will the city pay for the project, which would exceed the city's budget for it by more than $20 million if built to the fresh design?

Boise staffers and the project's architects assured the council and Bieter that they'll work out answers to these and other questions. The city hopes to break ground next year and finish the library by 2021.

The design was overseen by world-famous architect Moshe Safdie. It calls for demolishing the existing library, a 1940s-era warehouse that Boise converted to its main library in 1973, and replacing it with a four-story, contemporary building with a glass south side facing the Boise River, and building segments nesting into one another. Its curves and abundant glass evoke Safdie-designed libraries in Salt Lake City and Vancouver, British Columbia.

A funnel-shaped main entrance with an open-air plaza would face River Street on the north side of the new building. It would feed into a central chamber that designers are calling the "urban room." Carrie Yoon, one of Safdie's architects, described it as "a room that organizes the building but also brings the outside in."

An 18,000-square-foot theater would be attached to the building's east side along Capitol Boulevard. The headquarters for the city's Arts and History Department would be located just north of that. A roof garden that could double as an outdoor performing arts area would top the theater.

Public Works' Shawn Wilson described the library's design as just 5 percent complete.

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This three-dimensional model of Boise's proposed new main library sat in City Hall for a couple of hours Tuesday as city staffers and project architects briefed Mayor David Bieter and the City Council on the project. Sven Berg

1. Where to park?

One concern is parking. Library Director Kevin Booe said the library would have 40-50 surface parking spaces on the same lot as the library. The current library has 102 spaces and is often full.

The city is discussing buying a lot near the library where a parking garage with 250 to 300 spaces would be built, said Mike Journee, a spokesman for Bieter and the council.

Members of the city's urban renewal agency board have discussed helping pay for the garage, possibly with money from selling the parking structure underneath the Grove Hotel. The agency is asking $5.3 million for that garage.

The library's garage would cost about $10 million, Journee said.

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The Cabin was built in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps using donated wood. A literary nonprofit with the same name has maintained the building since 1995. David Staats

2. Whither The Cabin?

As much as the new library design pleased city leaders, it has alarmed historic preservationists and leaders of The Cabin.

The southern end of the proposed building would almost touch the northern wall of The Cabin's building, which the Civilian Conservation Corps built in 1940 to honor the 50th anniversary of Idaho's statehood.

Greg Reaves, another Safdie architect, said the design team wanted to avoid a plan that required The Cabin to move, but it wanted the library's southern facade close to the trees that stand next to the Boise River Greenbelt and the river.

Bieter said The Cabin might have to move. Kurt Zwolfer, The Cabin's executive director, said the organization has 10-15 years left on its lease. Zwolfer emailed a letter Tuesday morning to supporters warning them of the new library project's potential impact on The Cabin.

"We're in a tough situation right now," he told the Idaho Statesman shortly after dispatching the letter. "We're trying to do what's best for the literary arts organization — what'll keep the organization strong, what'll keep our programs going strong in the next few years and into the future. Since we don't own the building, we've got to look at the options that are presented to us and make the best of it."

The Cabin's writing classes and other activities aren't the only concern. The building itself is worth preserving, said Paula Benson, president of Preservation Idaho. Even moving the building would be a loss of history, Benson said.

"It's not just the building. It's the history that's tied to the building — why it was built, how it was built, where it was built," she said. "And moving it cuts that tie. It's still a beautiful historic building with a great history, but it's no longer tied to the place that was chosen for it."

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Architects designed Boise's proposed new main library to offer access from the building's northwest (shown here) and northeast corners. Provided by city of Boise

3. How will Boise raise enough money?

Money has been the biggest obstacle to a new main library as long as it's been discussed.

In 2000, after commissioning a design, initial estimates to build it came back as high as $119 million. Then-Mayor Brent Coles and the council concluded that was too much, and they backed away.

The rough estimate for the new design is $103 million. That's likely to change as the market for construction contractors and materials changes, but it's a lot more than the city's $80 million budget.

Money would come from a combination of fundraising; contributions from the city's general fund and the Capital City Development Corp., Boise’s urban renewal agency; and borrowing.

Wilson said the city will consider using less-expensive materials to cut costs. For example, concrete surfaces might take the place of terrazzo. Boise also could delay some costs by waiting several years to build elements like the theater.

Fundraising is a big variable. The city hopes to raise at least $18 million privately. Strong donor support could bring enough money to build the entire project according to the Safdie design. Booe said Boise will look for grants from nationwide organizations and private donors. Bieter has lined up former Micron Technology CEO Mark Durcan and Boise novelist Anthony Doerr to cochair a fundraising campaign starting next fall.

"It's not just a Boise donation process," Booe said. "We'll be looking far and wide for any type of money that we can get."