Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You want to join what?

I'm sure every parent feels the same way when their child decides to grow up and make their own decisions.  A year ago, my youngest child decided he wanted to join the the few and the proud.

I didn't know what to say. He seemed too young, too immature, not ready for this challenge.  I wanted him to wait.  But I knew that it was his decision.

PFC Steven Wilson, USMC, graduated from boot camp at Parris Island, SC in early March.  He then completed combat training at Camp Lejune, NC and he is now attending technical school at Pensacola Naval Air Station, FL.

The corps took away my immature teenager and sent back a confident and capable young man.

I'm pretty sure he now knows at least a dozen ways to knock me out.  But I'll never let him forget that he can't beat his old man.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Rebuilding Main Street With a New Library

Should a new library be built downtown?  I believe it should.  A new library near Main Street will bring more people to Main Street, providing a solid anchor for increasing retail sales in our shopping district.  I also believe that a new library would become the foundation to revitalize downtown while enhancing recreational and cultural opportunities along Riverfront Park.

Building a new library near Main Street will also require unusual cooperation and collaboration from both our county and city governments.  Before I explain, let me summarize the situation.
  • Prince George's County wants to rebuild the Laurel Library at its current location at Seventh and Talbot.
  • However, the current location has challenges.  The property is not large enough to support a new building along with all the necessary parking spaces.
  • The county would need to acquire additional land from the city to support the new building project.
  • The need for a larger parcel opens up the opportunity to consider other building locations.  
  • The City of Laurel has the old Police Station property at 350 Municipal Square.  It's one block off  Main Street and right along the river. The city would like to sell this 1.8 acre property and 19,000 square foot building for 2.5 million dollars.
"Bring Our Library Downtown," or BOLD, is a grassroots group advocating for building the new library downtown at the old Police Station location.  They have a slide show highlighting many of the benefits of moving the library downtown.

I agree with BOLD but I would like to go a bit further and suggest that the city simply give, not sell, the old Police Station property to the county for the new library.  The city has the most to gain from moving the library downtown.  While 2.5 million dollars is a lot of money that could be used for many other city projects, I believe that this is a small price to pay to help revitalize Main Street. 

This 2.5 million dollar gift should come with three conditions.  First, that the city and county would jointly appoint a dedicated planning commission to design the building and grounds of the new library.  Second, the city would get final approval of the county's site and building plan.  Third, the county would agree to buy the property on the northwest corner that sits between the old Police Station and the river, highlighted in red below.

By removing all of the existing buildings on the site, we will have a large parcel that opens north to the river.  With an open lot, we can build a large, innovative library and learning center that fully incorporates both the river and adjacent park land into its design.  This approach also opens options for increased parking for Main Street visitors.

This is obviously an aggressive plan.  It will cost both the city and county significant resources, not just money, but also time and attention.  The city has a long history of augmenting county services with city tax dollars.  For example, the city has contributed over $250,000 per year towards the county's fire and ambulance services.  I think it is entirely reasonable for the city to contribute funding that will lead directly to augmenting Main Street's revitalization.

This plan also requires that both county and city governments to work together on the project in good faith and for the benefit of all.  It will be difficult because governments rarely share the same priorities or have business and planning processes that are compatible.  But the enhanced library and learning center that could result from this cooperation will be so much better than what either government could possible accomplish alone.

Please see the sidebar to take our poll, "Should the Laurel Library Move Downtown?"
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