Book it: Here’s why the Fort Worth Central Library is up for sale

It’s part of a large-scale reorganization of city properties, set in motion as Fort Worth prepares to occupy its new city hall from 2023. But the sale of the central library was the one that hit a nerf with some residents. During the announcement, the Fort Worth Library received dozens of comments on Facebook expressing concern and disappointment that the building was put up for sale. Similar concerns were expressed on the Fort Worth Forum website.

Jeroy Davis, a Fort Worth resident who has lived in town for 44 years and used the central library for 20, said he understands a new library will be built, but hopes it’s still downtown. . He uses the library for the Internet, movies and books.

“I guess I hope that’s progress,” Davis said.

Fort Worth resident Cathy Neece Brown is a huge fan of libraries in general and the Fort Worth Library in particular.

“I still have my kids’ first library cards,” she says. “It’s a big problem for us.”

She also uses the library in her professional life as Vice President of Mission Support at the James L. West Center for Dementia Care in Fort Worth. She is working to set up memory box workshops for caregivers and people with dementia. Neese Brown loves the current downtown library, especially the children’s section, but she also understands that the library must respond to changes in culture.

Seth Bodin

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Fort Worth Report

One of the three floors of the Central Library is accessible to the public. The third floor is completely unfinished and the basement was closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You can check out the library hotspots and they have ESL programs that are important to this community,” she said. “The library is now more than just a place to consult books, so changes are going to happen. But I still like the library.

Downtown customers won’t be short of services, city officials say. If the building is sold, the buyer would be required to provide funding to help develop a new library location, according to a city statement. The library would also find a temporary location to serve its patrons until the new location was built.

Moving the Central Library to part of the new development or to another downtown location is similar to what Fort Worth did with its Seminary South branch, which moved in late February to Fort Worth’s La Gran Plaza under the name of La Gran Biblioteca.

The library will be sold for a minimum of $100 million, said David Berzina, vice president of JLL Fort Worth, the real estate company the city uses to sell property. The building is one of nine buildings in the city that are for sale. As a city building, the property is currently not on the tax rolls, meaning any new private development will go toward the city’s bottom line.

“It will be challenging and challenging for JLL to assess and establish value for the Fort Worth Central Public Library located at 500 W. Third St.,” said Chris Copeland, executive vice president of Southland Property Tax Consultants Inc. ., based in Fort Worth. in a statement to the Fort Worth report. “This is indeed a special purpose property and any future users will require significant renovation/improvement costs.”

The city’s plans for the current library date back to 2017 when officials began reviewing plans for a new city hall, said Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke. This began a reassessment of city-owned land and buildings, particularly in the downtown area.

“At that time we were talking about if we did all the stuff that we talked about, do we want to, you know, move the library because we knew the library was underutilized,” Cooke said. “We have a lot of square footage in the downtown central library, but it’s incredibly underutilized.”

Acting library director Marilyn Marvin said the request was for a library of approximately 90,000 square feet, which is 160,000 feet smaller than the current location.

Currently, only one of the three floors of the Central Library is accessible to the public. The staff closed the basement at the start of the pandemic. The third floor remains unfinished. Library staff can access the third floor via a long ladder through a maze of hallways.

The unfinished floor reflects the sometimes troubled history of the building.

The physical location of the Downtown Library has changed three times in its 120-year history. The second location was built on land donated by Sarah Gray Jennings on the condition that a library be built.

When the downtown library moved to its current location in 1978 with funding from a bond proposal, the family sued the city. This had an impact on funding for the building, Marvin said.

“By the time the legal battle was over, they only had funds to do the basement,” Marvin said.

The Library Foundation raised funds to construct two more floors of the building with a design by David M. Schwarz Architects in 1998, but the funds were only enough to complete one floor, Marvin said. Now the building is outdated in some ways, Marvin said, like the old carpet and the limited number of electrical outlets. A new library excites him.

“We can completely rethink what a central downtown library will become,” Marvin said. “How can we better serve the public downtown that we couldn’t in this building, just from an infrastructure perspective?”

She says she doesn’t know the exact reason why the library is up for sale, but she has a guess: it’s prime real estate.

Officials like Cooke said one reason was underutilization.

“Maybe there’s higher and better use for those two blocks,” he said. “And when you think two blocks, to the right, we’re downtown in the 12th largest city in the country. And over time there is better use of those two blocks.

Berzina said there is interest in the building, but the city wants to keep the property on the market for several months. Cooke made one thing clear: they don’t leave the library.

“We don’t abandon a library. What we’re saying is, “Let’s do better on these two blocks,” Cooke said. “And we’ll find a library location downtown.” This could be part of the new development; it could go elsewhere. So all of those options for me are still open on what we do with the library location downtown.
Seth Bodine is an economic and business development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @sbodine120.

Bob Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at [email protected] At Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Learn more about our editorial independence policy here.

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