After more than two years of discussion over the fate of the downtown Renton Library, some business owners are vocalizing their support for the building’s relocation to South Third Street.
Talk of revamping the downtown and highlands libraries began two years ago during the vote to annex Renton’s libraries into the King County Library System (KCLS).
Here’s a brief background:
The special elections voter’s pamphlet stated “Renton would provide two replacement library facilities to be paid for at a future date by City of Renton funds.” But the pamphlet did not specify if the ‘replacement facilities’ would occur through a remodel or a move. This one line — among other points — has fueled the fire between opponents and proponents of the library move.
Slightly more than 31 percent of registered voters, or 12,760 turned out for the Feb. 9, 2009 special election. In response to the question “Should the City of Renton be annexed to and be a part of the King County Library District,” 50.21 percent, or 6,395 voters, said ‘yes;’ 49.79 percent, or 6,342 voters said ‘no.’
with the Big 5 Corporation for property located at 508 South Third Street. In June the . At that same meeting, the Council voted to maintain ownership of the existing library building located over the Cedar River and transform it into whatever the community expressed the most interest in.
The ; through public meetings, and , the group has narrowed down the future uses for the building. The Steering Committee will present its recommendation to the City Council's Committee of the whole meeting meeintg on April 16 at 6 p.m.
Public comment has ebbed and flowed over the last year, especially around the , and during public comment before the Renton City Council.
An opposition group — — formed shortly after the City’s decision to move the library to the Third Street location. The group , which it has submitted to King County Elections for an audit. ; the group is currently waiting to hear about the second set of signatures.
Business Owners Take A Stand:
Renton’s downtown business owners have begun vocalizing their feelings about the library move.
Until now, few business owners and nonprofits have publicly voiced their opinions about the downtown library relocation. For each business owner who agreed to go on the record with Patch, there was another who did not want to be quoted for fear of losing business.
Rich Sweeney, owner of the , has taken his opinion one step further by designing and printing, “Support The New Library” signs.
Sweeney, the Downtown Committee Chair, first thought of printing signs following a committee meeting held earlier this month at the WACAP Offices at 315 South Second Street.
He sat on the idea for two weeks until he had time enough to design and print a test poster. Sweeney posted a picture of the sign on Facebook and before long he’d received enough poster requests that he decided to do a press run. The posters are available at the Renton Printery for $2 each, and any profits will go toward KCLS.
Some of the posters along Third Street have already gone missing, he said. To ensure that more signs don’t disappear, Sweeney fastened a few of the signs to A-frame stands with grommets and metal wire.
“This is really split across parties and friends,” he said of the library move.
Just down the street, the marquee board reads “We Support New Library.” In October Renton Civic Theatre Director Bill Huls told Patch that he is excited about the new , and is expected to be open sometime in 2013.
Longtime restaurateur Gene Sens also supports the library’s move to the former Big 5 Sporting Goods store site across from the Piazza. Initially, he was hesitant to share his thoughts, but now says that it is time to move forward.
He understands that some of the push-back may be rooted in nostalgia, but contends that change is good, especially in this case.
“This is the most significant thing to happen in the downtown for quite awhile,” he said, citing the variety of programs and services offered through the library including wireless internet, social programs and workshops.
As for safety, Sens said an increase in foot traffic downtown will lead to a safer neighborhood because people will be “self policing.”
The move will create a type of ‘nexus,’ with the , library, , Piazza park, transit center, restaurants and cafes.
“It’ll be a boon to all business,” he said, calling the library an “anchor tenant,” that will draw more business and stimulate the downtown.
Sens predicts that in 10 years, after the library has moved, everyone will forget about the current turmoil and say they were for the relocation effort.
“We have to move on,” he said. “I hope (the City) does not reverse course; it would send the wrong message.”
Further up South Third Street, toward the current library location, owner Rod Stewart has spoken before City Council in favor of the library move and believes the change will bring more people into city’s core.
“As a business owner, I think it will be beneficial to have traffic through downtown,” he said, adding that he feels people will be more likely to shop downtown businesses if they are already there to visit the library. Stewart will celebrate his business’ 16th anniversary this June.
Mary Clymer, owner of , said she hasn’t gone a day without a customer walking in and asking about the library.
“Every day people come in here and want to talk about it,” she said.
Two years ago, Clymer voted to keep the library under the ownership of the City of Renton. And she still thinks it should have stayed under local ownership.
Clymer also feels there was misinformation and a lack of necessary information made available during the Feb. 9, 2009 special election to annex Renton’s libraries into KCLS.
However, the majority rules, she said, and now she supports the library’s move to the Big 5 location.
“I’ve been involved in enough elections that you just say, “Dang it,” and move on,” she said.
But Clymer does feel that the City’s decision to move the downtown library would have been better received had the City and KCLS been more transparent during the special election.
Looking to the current situation, and into the future, Clymer is tired of hearing how unsafe downtown is.
“Those comments directly affect my business, and that is why the businesses need to speak out,” she said.
Both sides are guilty of misinformation, she said, and now is the time to forge ahead and leave the nostalgia, untruths and hurt feelings in the past.
What are your thoughts about the library? Send letters to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first and last name and city of residence.
*Editor's Note: The original article misstated the time of the Library Steering Committee's presentation to Council on April 16. The correct time is 6 p.m. Patch regrets the error.