After a wait of nearly two decades, hundreds of neighbors and book lovers turned up Thursday night to celebrate the opening of a new community library on Victory Memorial Parkway in north Minneapolis.

When the doors opened at 5 p.m., children bee-lined for the Nature Station, an interactive play area, while others thumbed through cookbooks and several opened new accounts. Some 500 visitors had entered the Webber Park Library within the first hour, library officials said.

“It’s been a challenging project and we’re just really pleased and proud that the community sees themselves reflected in this library,” said Lois Langer Thompson, director of the Hennepin County Library system.

The $10.5 million library opened 17 years after voters authorized the bonding, and it replaces a 34-year-old library that was demolished in 2014.

Designed by architect Mohammed Lawal, who grew up on the North Side, the library is part of the Hennepin County system, which now has 41 locations. It has twice as many computers as the old space and improved Wi-Fi, and it will be open every day but Sunday.

Lawal said that, during his childhood, he spent his Saturdays at Sumner Library with his mother, an English teacher.

“I’m not one who likes to read, but that’s what I did with my mom at the library,” he said.

In remarks at the opening ceremony, Lawal mentioned a personal link to the library, which stands just north of the community where he grew up.

“It’s always great to be on Humboldt,” said Lawal, who grew up on the same street but in the Harrison neighborhood. “There’s a sentimental connection.” Though he lives in south Minneapolis now, Lawal added, “North is where my heart is. I grew up here and I’m so proud to have grown up in the North Side.”

The Webber Park Library project has morphed a great deal since the referendum in 2000. It changed from a $1.9 million renovation of the now-razed former library into a new building that costs six times as much.

Langer Thompson, who said the project was long overdue, said libraries should be “destination places.”

“So that people will come and spend time in the community,” she said. “Children start to play together and then their parents start talking and you get to know your neighbors.”

‘I love it’

Claudia and Ryan Kattner visited the new space with their 4½-year-old daughter, Francesca, who immediately put on orange and black butterfly wings in the library’s interactive play area.

“There’s not really an area like this for kids in other libraries,” Ryan Kattner said. “She’ll have a place to come and play and learn.”

As local residents toured their new library, many expressed gratitude and wonder.

A young girl who made her way to the computer area yelled “Wow!”

Zachariah Seals, 10, was one of the first patrons to walk through the doors.

“This is stupid crazy,” Seals said about being able to access his favorite computer games.

Hawa Dukury, who lives 10 blocks away, was one of the first to log on to the new computers.

Until now, Dukury would have to travel to Brooklyn Park or other not-so-convenient libraries to get internet access.

On Thursday, she was considering how to work at her neighborhood library.

“I love it,” Dukury said. “I was so excited.” She brought her aunt “who doesn’t even read that much.”

Having a library nearby, she said, makes “me feel safe and at home.”


Twitter: @KarenAnelZamora