Questions fill library’s storied tale of expansion needs


By Dave Fidlin


Whitewater officials have begun digging into the future of the Irvin L. Young Memorial Library amid an exploratory process that is expected to last at least a year.

At this point, there are more questions than answers for a public amenity that officials have asserted is bursting at the seams.

During a robust discussion of the library’s future at a Common Council meeting April 18, officials wrangled over such issues as cost, community feedback and how the project might fit into private developments.

One of the city’s first official overtures will be coming next month. Library Director Stacey Lunsford said she and members of the Library Board are holding a public forum May 22 and will lay out why Irvin L. Young needs additional space to adequately meet patrons’ needs.

Although the space needs issue has lurked in the background for a number of years, concrete examples of what might be done in the future began bubbling to the surface a year ago.

In February 2016, library representatives and developers approached the city about a possible project calling for a library and hotel. Current cost estimates have the project pegged at $16 million.

The unseemly development mix bubbled to the surface after a similar project transpired in a peer community: the City of Platteville, which, like Whitewater, hosts a state university.

St. Cloud, Minn.-based United Development Solutions had a role in facilitating construction of a 72-room hotel near Platteville’s library. The firm has been brought into the fold to look into such a possible arrangement in Whitewater.

Although there has not been much public discussion in the past year on the public-private, mixed-use project with the library, City Manager Cameron Clapper said at last week’s meeting discussions have been taking place behind the scenes.

Whitewater officials have been working with United Development representative Troy Hoekstra since the proposal in early 2016 first surfaced.

“Over the last 14 months, staff has engaged in periodic conversations with Mr. Hoekstra to gather additional information regarding the potential project and to provide necessary information to enable Mr. Hoekstra to develop his proposal,” Clapper said.

“In the past month, more details about the proposal have come to light. Hoekstra’s proposal to the city has called for relocating the library, hotel and other possible developments at the corner of Franklin and Main streets.

A current two-building development known as Green Shutters would be razed to facilitate the library project. A Mercy Healthcare Clinic currently occupies the Green Shutters buildings.

While the upcoming May meeting could help in laying the groundwork for next steps, council members last week were quick to note decisions are far from official.

Council President Patrick Singer, for instance, said city officials — the Library Board, in particular — need to make better strides toward educating the community about the proposed project before any decisions are made.

Council member Christopher Grady said he believed the city should work prudently in exploring all of the options so the city does not squander a new development opportunity.


WHO: Members of the city’s Library Board

WHAT: Public forum on library expansion space needs

WHEN: 6 p.m. Monday, May 22

WHERE: Irvin L. Young Memorial Library, 431 W. Center St.

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