Two New Orleans Public Library (NOPL) branches will be closing in the next few weeks, with the future of one still in question.
New Orleans District A City Councilwoman Susan Guidry says she hopes to secure an extension beyond the Nov. 1 deadline for the city to vacate the American Can Apartments building, where the Mid-City branch library currently operates. City officials are scrambling to secure a new Mid-City location, but finding a space that meets NOPL's needs is not a simple task. Those requirements are a minimum of 4,500 square feet, adjacent parking and visibility, not to mention affordability, says NOPL Executive Director Charles Brown.
Brown says there's no timetable for completing the move. "Negotiating a lease arrangement and doing any kind of build-out or renovations that might be necessary make it unlikely — it's possible, but it would be unlikely — that we would relocate from the American Can location directly into another location," Brown said.
Meanwhile, the Milton H. Latter branch Uptown will close for about three months starting Nov. 6 for the second half of a two-phase renovation project costing $2.1 million. The first phase was completed in October 2013. The project includes interior and exterior finishes and electrical replacements. The Friends of the New Orleans Public Library book sale will move temporarily to the Algiers Regional Library while the Latter branch is closed.
The good news, in Guidry's view, is that the library's success in the American Can building has demonstrated the viability of a permanent — and larger — Mid-City branch. If all goes according to plan, the new space will be approximately 50 percent larger. Guidry says she's not sure what sort of flexibility landlord ACV VII might allow on the move-out date; the company had not responded to a query as of Sept. 24.
Randy Opotowsky, an attorney representing ACV VII, notified the city Aug. 28 that his client needed possession of the space by Nov. 1, a move that surprised city officials. The library was operating on a month-to-month arrangement that replaced a permanent lease that expired in November 2014, six months ahead of a public referendum on a tax increase for the library system. The 2.5-mill increase passed overwhelmingly, providing the system with an additional $8 million in annual revenue.
Brown says uncertainty over the referendum necessitated the month-to-month arrangement and that Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration was preparing to negotiate a new long-term lease, but there had been no discussions with the landlord by the time the letter arrived, nearly four months after the millage vote.
Following the referendum, Brown says he and his staff were busy focusing on a 30 percent increase in the system's operating hours and rebuilding the Nora Navra branch in the 7th Ward, both of which he had pledged to do if voters agreed to the millage. Renegotiating the American Can lease didn't rank as high on the priority list, he says.
"As a long-term, established tenant of this facility, we didn't think that on May 3, the day after the millage passed, that our top priority would be negotiating with the owners of American Can to change our lease," Brown said. "We were working on it, but it didn't seem to be as urgent as some of the other things we needed to do."
In the meantime, ACV II apparently was talking to potential new tenants. Guidry says the landlord came to terms with a tenant that wants to build out multiple spaces, but she doesn't know who the tenant is.