2006-11-29, 09:49

A D.C. downtown library as part of mixed-use project?

By: Jonathan Groner
On Monday, Nov. 27, 2006, Dana Hedgpeth of The Washington Post reported that a master plan has been approved for the old D.C. convention center site, now a barred and highly prized 10-acre plot in the heart of the city's old (and new) downtown.

The location of 9th Street and New York Avenue, N.W., is expected to house 415,000 square feet of office space and 280,000 square feet of retail space -- including restaurants, home-furnishing and clothing stores, and specialty bread and wine-and-cheese and produce shops. (The city's appetite for trendy restaurant dishes and gourmet food seems insatiable!) There will also be 686 residential units, 20 percent of them designated as affordable housing, and a large outdoor park with a plaza and outdoor cafe seating.

The question is: Will there also be a library? Not far away, Maryland's Rockville Town Square will include a major county library as part of a path-breaking mixed-use development. And the District of Columbia badly needs a new central public library: The old Martin Luther King Library, designed by Mies van der Rohe and completed in 1972, has not been maintained well and needs to be thoroughly renovated or replaced. (Interestingly, it's the only Mies van der Rohe building in the city.)

The D.C. Council recently declined to move ahead with a bill to authorize a library on the convention center site. The outgoing mayor, Anthony Williams, is a supporter, but we will have to see what incoming mayor Adrian Fenty thinks.

A new library on this site would make this mixed-use development not merely a financial success but a cultural magnet as well.

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