Atlanta City Council poised to ask for Central Library to be renovated, not razed or abandoned

By David Pendered

The Atlanta City Council is poised to formally ask the Fulton County Board of Commissioners to renovate and reprogram Central Library and, if that doesn’t happen, that the building designed by world-renowned architect Marcel Breuer be redeveloped into a catalytic space.

Central Library

The Atlanta City Council is poised to formally ask Fulton County to renovate and reprogram Central Library, and not build another library in Downtown Atlanta. File/Credit:

The fate of Central Library is undecided. The library board is considering whether to renovate it, at a cost of at least $9 million, or to build a new library at another location in Downtown Atlanta.

Rumors abound over whether a new library would continue to serve the mission of a central library, or if that mission would be transferred to a library elsewhere in the county.

The council is slated to approve on July 18 on a resolution asking that Central Library be renovated. Councilmember Kwanza Hall, who represents Downtown Atlanta, introduced the resolution that was passed unanimously Tuesday by the council’s Community Development Committee. The committee’s full endorsement sets up the resolution for adoption by the council.

However, two committee members voiced concerns that the council’s central message should be that a Central Library, and its mission, remain in Downtown Atlanta.

Councilmembers Michael Julian Bond and Cleta Winslow suggested the resolution places too much emphasis on preserving the building, rather than preserving library services for area residents.

Bond said he has heard speculation that the library board may be considering closing Central Library and relocating its mission to a facility in north Fulton County.

Michael Julian Bond

Atlanta City Councilmember Michael Julian Bond

“I wouldn’t want us to lose the battle over where the library is ultimately located,” Bond said. “That is probably the most important thing of all. … The message that needs to go out is that the library needs to remain in Downtown Atlanta, accessible to transit, accessible to citizens. I hope that is not lost or misconstrued when we pass this paper.”

Winslow said the Central Library, with its complete array of programs, should be in Downtown Atlanta. Nearby neighborhoods are repopulating and Central Library is the site closest to them, she said.

Hall, who was not at the meeting, was represented by his policy director, Colleen Kiernan. Kiernan said she appreciated the councilmembers’ remarks and said these concerns are addressed in the resolution, 16-R-3949. Kiernan said any lingering concerns could be added to the paper before the council considers its adoption.

Here is heart of the recommendation:

  • “WHEREAS, it is in the best interest of the City to complete reprogramming and renovation of the Central Library as approved by voters as part of the 2008 Bond Referendum.
  • “NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF ATLANTA, that if Fulton County should decide that is in the best interest of the Central Library to house it in a different building that the 1980 Marcel Breuer building should be reimagined and redeveloped as a catalytic development for Downtown Atlanta.
  • “BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that a copy of this legislation be transmitted to the Board of Trustees of the Atlanta-Fulton Library System and Resolution 16-R-3831 rescinded.”

Kwanza HallThe resolution to be rescinded calls for a new library to be built on the site of the Breuer-designed building. The council adopted the resolution on June 20 and it concludes:

  • “WHEREAS, it is in the best interest of the City to construct the new Central Library at its present location as approved by voters as part of the 2008 Bond Referendum.
  • “NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF ATLANTA, that the new Central Library for the Atlanta-Fulton Library System be constructed at its present location of One Margaret Mitchell Square, Atlanta 30303.”

Committee Chairman Andre Dickens suggested the Atlanta City Council should meet with Fulton County’s Board of Commissioners to discuss the library issue. The county controls the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System. The city transferred the Atlanta Public Library System to the county in July 1983, according to the pending resolution.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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