$3.5 million fundraising target for mixed-use library
Goal must be met by July
By Scott Bellile
The New London Public Library and Museum Board established a $3.5 million fundraising goal for a proposed mixed-use public library.
Much of the amount must be raised by July 7 in order for a new mixed-use library to be built on the former Wolf River Lumber property in downtown New London. The city has not officially approved the project yet.
The board agreed on the $3.5 million target during a special meeting on Jan. 7, following discussions with the library’s and museum’s respective Friends boards.
If the goal is reached and the mixed-use library is built down the street, then the museum will take over the entire library-museum complex on South Pearl Street. Currently the museum is housed in the basement of the shared building.
McDonald Schaefer, a Madison- and Milwaukee-based fundraising consulting firm, will manage the library’s capital campaign in coordination with the Friends of the New London Library group.
Of the money raised, approximately $3 million would go toward constructing the library building. The remaining $500,000 would help furnish the library.
The city would own the downstairs portion that contains the public library.
The private developer, Horizon Development Inc., would own and operate the upstairs portion, which would consist of approximately 40 affordable housing units.
The rest of the 6-acre property would consist of market-rate townhouses and condominiums, totaling 35 to 40 residential units, and possibly a commercial building.
Donations to the library would not be spent on constructing the residential or commercial buildings.
The library has not launched its fundraising campaign yet. Currently it is recruiting volunteers to run it, James Hamilton, consultant for McDonald Schaefer, told the Press Star.
He said anyone interested in volunteering for the campaign can contact Ann Hunt, New London Public Library director, at 920-982-8519.
The Press Star will provide information on how to donate to the project once the capital campaign is underway.
More financing needed than donations
Next December the city of New London plans to apply for senior affordable housing tax credits through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
Horizon Development Inc. would only proceed with the library’s second-floor residential components if the city were awarded the tax credits.
The city would find out in spring 2020 whether it were awarded the WHEDA tax credits.
If that application is successful, the library building could break ground in 2021.
The city also would establish a tax increment district to finance the project. By using a TID, property tax revenue generated within a selected portion of town could be allocated toward the mixed-use project for up to 27 years.
The city will not finance the project through bonding or a referendum because New London is not in a position to increase its borrowing limit for about five more years.
Instead, the project’s cost would be covered through private donations to the library, the WHEDA tax credits, the TID and the private developer.
City Administrator Kent Hager told the Press Star if any one of those four financial components fails to come through, then the mixed-use development project would be terminated.
If the library’s fundraiser is successful but one of the three other financial components fails, Hunt told the Press Star a backup plan could be to build only a public library on an empty lot that the library owns on Pearl Street across from the current library.
Randy Stadtmueller, the city’s hired consultant for the mixed-use library project, said at a New London Public Library and Museum Board meeting in December that he believes the library could still be built on the riverfront if one of the four necessary financial components, the WHEDA tax credits, failed to come through.
Although the upstairs senior housing would generate useful tax revenue for the site, its tax impact would not be significant enough to derail construction of a library if WHEDA rejected the city’s tax credit application, he said.
“Let’s say … the application fails, and you can’t build the housing. Well, you haven’t built anything, so you have the ability to come back and redesign the building … without housing, and then look at your fundraising and move forward from there,” Stadtmueller told the library and museum board on Dec. 17, 2018.
Museum not included in fundraiser
New London Public Museum, although connected to the library, is a separate entity.
Eventually if the library moves out of its current building, the museum will need to raise around $2 million in its own capital campaign to reconfigure the facility and maintain operations in what would be a larger setting for the museum.
At a Jan. 7 meeting of the library and museum board, Hamilton said campaign consultants determined that the New London community would not financially support a combined fundraising campaign – of around $5.8 million – for both the library’s and museum’s needs.
Later that night, the library and museum board voted to restrict New London Public Museum from conducting any major capital campaigns until the library’s capital campaign is completed.
An alternative fundraising proposal, which the board rejected that night, included a $500,000 stretch goal for New London Public Museum on top of the library’s $3.5 million goal.
The stretch goal would have meant that if the library’s capital campaign hit its $3.5 million target, then fundraising would have continued until July 7 to raise up to $500,000 for the museum’s eventual renovation.
Betty Roberts, secretary for the library and museum board, said it would be “a much cleaner and easier fundraising situation” to only focus on the library now and hold a separate capital campaign for the museum after the library vacates the building.
Roberts said even if the museum’s capital campaign has to take place years from now, people out there will donate to it, noting other large organizations are always conducting ongoing capital campaigns.
“If people want the museum, they will donate to it,” Roberts said.
McDonald Schaefer notices that New London residents have “a strong interest” in preserving their library and museum, Hamilton said.
“People are very interested in how both contribute to the lifeblood and vitality of the New London community and see these as two pillars of New London that need to be maintained moving forward,” Hamilton said.