Cary and Wake County have a joint plan to replace the library on South Academy Street with a bigger one at the corner of Walnut Street and Dry Avenue.
The county is providing most of the funds while Cary is providing the land. Construction on the facility could start as early as 2017.
But Cary councilwoman Jennifer Robinson says the town should delay its plans and consider potential library sites that are closer to Chatham Street, which is home to most of downtown Cary’s restaurants and retail shops. She sees a new library as a tool in the town’s toolbox for bringing in more customers.
People visit the Academy Street library more than 300,000 times a year, according to Wake County. Robinson thinks the majority of those people won’t want to walk about a half-mile to Chatham Street from the proposed library site.
“If we’re trying to bring foot traffic to Chatham, (the site on Walnut) just seems too far away to benefit our downtown businesses,” she said.
She has the support of some downtown business owners such as Ralph Ashworth, owner of Ashworth Drugs at the corner of Academy and West Chatham streets. Ashworth and a few other business owners met Friday to discuss options for keeping the library on Academy, preferably closer to Chatham Street.
“We’d love to have it on Academy Street, because that’s our signature street,” Ashworth said. “It would have a nice presence and fit in with what we’re looking to do.”
The group is simply reviewing alternate possibilities and plans to support whatever the town’s final decision may be, Ashworth added.
At this point, Cary and Wake County planners are still thinking about the library conceptually, said Mark Forestieri, Wake County director of facilities, design and construction.
The county has budgeted $7 million for a new library that could be up to 25,000 square feet – twice the size of the current library – but more specific size and cost details are unavailable, Forestieri said.
County planners hope to produce a schematic design by the end of the year, he said, which would allow time for Cary leaders to change their minds.
While the informal group of business owners doesn’t have an official proposal or position, Robinson’s colleagues are reluctant to revisit the decision they made in 2013.
“We can’t think about downtown as one intersection and one street,” Councilman Don Frantz said. At the proposed site, the library will “create a great synergy with the park, the (Cary) arts center and (Cary) elementary school,” he said.
Frantz noted that the library site is on the same property where the town plans to build a multi-million dollar park. That property is across Academy Street from Belle, a farm-to-table restaurant in the Jones House, which Cary spent $255,000 to renovate. It’s also across the street from the Cary Arts Center.
Most council members are ready to move on with the process, Frantz said.
“We’d like to stop talking about it and start building it,” he said.
Mayor Harold Weinbrecht echoed Frantz’ feelings, saying the council already “beat that to death.
“We’re pretty far down the road of having it on the opportunity site,” Weinbrecht said. “It would be a complete about-face. I don’t foresee any change coming.”
The council chose the Walnut Street site for the library in part because the town’s options near Chatham Street are limited. Other than The Cary theater, Cary doesn’t own any land in the immediate vicinity of the Chatham-Academy intersection.
Years ago, county planners investigated the feasibility of building a library where the post office is at the corner of Academy and Waldo Street, which is about halfway between the Walnut site and Chatham Street.
The site was big enough for a library building but not big enough for the required parking spaces, Forestieri said.
“We would only get about 1/3 of the parking we needed,” he said.
If plans for a library moved forward on the post office site, Forestieri said, some visitors would have to park across Waldo Street at First United Methodist Church. That’s less than ideal, he said. The county always prefers on-site parking to reduce the instances where parents have to walk their children across a street.
“Children’s services are important. You need parking spaces that are close to the building,” he said.
The site on Walnut offers more flexibility, he said.
“It’s large enough to accomplish parking through surface parking or structured parking,” he said, referring to a parking deck.
Cary could still change its plans if it wanted to, Forestieri said.
“This was the site that the town asked us to focus on,” he said. “We’re fairly flexible.”