A former police building along 35th Street in Five Points is a step closer to becoming a Denver Public Library branch with affordable studio space for artists.
Last week, Denver City Council’s housing committee approved a $1.8 million agreement that would allow the RiNo Art District to redevelop the building at 1930 35th St. The project would turn 7,000 square feet of the space into a library branch. RiNo would manage the building’s operations and financing for 10 years.
According to a presentation by Denver Public Library staff during the Jan. 27 housing committee meting, the library, located near the South Platte River, would serve Cole, Elyria-Swansea, Globeville and Five Points.
During a presentation to the committee, Denver City Librarian Michelle Jeske said a Globeville neighborhood plan adopted in 2014 listed library services among the needs for the neighborhood.
Librarian Annie Kemmerling said the new library will help serve this and other nearby neighborhoods. Jeske said a library would still be needed in nearby Globeville, though a site for it has not been found.
Longtime Globeville resident Gayle LeRoux said that when the city considered moving tiny homes for people experiencing homelessness to her neighborhood two years ago, she helped survey 180 residents about what they wanted to see in the neighborhood. Among the top needs were grocery stores, parks and a library. But she doesn’t think the new library will be accessible for most people in her neighborhood.
“If it’s built in RiNo, we’re just excluded from it,” LeRoux said, echoing longtime concerns from some residents who feel excluded from the ever-changing area overseen by the art district.
RiNo Art District co-founder and executive director Tracy Weil said the entire project will cost about $3 million, paid for primarily through fundraising. Special tax districts in the area will pitch in dollars as well, including the RiNo Business Improvement District and the RiNo Denver General Improvement District. Weil said about $900,000 has already been raised for the project (about a third from fundraising and two-thirds from the tax districts). The money will go toward redevelopment of the building.
Jeske said the agreement will help the city save money. The city will pay about $12 per square foot for annual management fees, rather than the $30 per square foot she said is a more common estimate for the area. She said the city wouldn’t be able to afford a project like this in any neighborhood, and especially in the River North area, without a partner.
“RiNo Art District understands the value that the Denver Public Library is going to bring to this project and this community,” Jeske said during the meeting.
Work on the site has already started.
A layout provided during Wednesday’s meeting shows the library will share space with Redline, a contemporary art center, to host affordable art studios. Public restrooms will be available, while a retractable door will connect the art spaces with the library.
Kemmerling said the Comal Heritage Food Incubator, located in the TAXI development in RiNo, will also host business programs at the library, while Denver Zine Library is also interested in using space there. She called the model for the library “unique.”
Weil said feedback from the surrounding community suggested people wanted the existing building to remain and provide spaces for creative work. He said there will be more opportunities for people to weigh in and make suggestions about the kind of art tools — like recording studios and 3D printers — that people want to see in the shared space.
“There’s not really a lot of examples of this stuff in the region, so we’re very excited about this,” Weil said.
Councilmember Candi CdeBaca, whose district includes Five Points, said she’d like to see a new library branch in nearby Elyria-Swansea because the area’s current branch, Valdez-Perry Branch Library, is not accessible for all residents.
“Our hope is that eventually we can have one on the south side of the bridge in Swansea so that we all have access there,” CdeBaca said.
Denver Public Library spokesperson Olivia Gallegos said in an email the library is open to exploring partnerships similar to the one with RiNo to help build new libraries. (Jeske identified Westwood as another city neighborhood in need of a larger library.)
The agreement approved last week will move to city council for final consideration.