Hennepin County shelves Webber Park library quest

Owners of the desired site declined to sell, so the Hennepin board opted instead to renovate the current facility in north Minneapolis. Site acquisition woes prompted the Hennepin board to opt instead to renovate the old building in north Minneapolis.

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The Webber Park Library in 2006.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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After years of planning, the Webber Park area in north Minneapolis won't be getting a new library -- at least not any time soon.

Hennepin County Board Chair Mike Opat and Commissioner Mark Stenglein on Tuesday abandoned plans to build a county library on a property that fronts Victory Memorial Drive. The owners of the corner lot the members had long been considering made it clear they weren't selling.

Instead, the commissioners proposed -- and the County Board passed -- an alternative plan to spend $500,000 next year to improve the current Webber Park library, a 32-year-old structure that neighbors consider too old, too small and too often closed.

It was reopened by the county in 2008 after Hennepin took over the city's libraries, but it's open just three days a week.

"We're unable to secure the proper land for ... the new library," said Stenglein, during his last meeting as commissioner before resigning next week to become president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

Opat said it was "unfortunate" the library wouldn't be built, noting that they'd been working on the project for five years.

They wanted to buy a lot with a vacant house at the corner of Humboldt and 45th Avenues N., a site that would have provided a large grassy expanse on Victory Drive. Toward that end, the county bought two adjacent parcels and earmarked $12 million for construction.

But the property owners insisted they wanted to move there and said last winter they planned to do just that, as well as use an old garage on the property to open a business.

Susan Quist, a teacher who has been following the library project for the Camden Community News, said she was disappointed by Tuesday's developments. The $500,000 allotted for renovation of the old library, she said, doesn't measure up to Webber Park's $2 million share of Minneapolis library referendum funds that accompanied the merger of the city and county library systems.

"We've been promised something, and waiting for it and anticipating it," she said.

The library could become an issue in the campaign for Stenglein's seat. Candidates who filed Tuesday for the job were Leslie Davis, who ran for governor in the 2010 Republican primary; Steve Dehler, a Hennepin County correctional officer and former Republican legislator who is running as an independent; small-business owner Tonia Johnson, a DFLer who says she's running as an independent Democrat, and DFLer Blong Yang, an attorney and investigator for the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department.

Other declared candidates are state Sen. Linda Higgins, who won the DFL endorsement on Sunday; Golden Valley City Council Member Paula Pental, an independent, and DFLer Don Samuels of the Minneapolis City Council.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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