Developing Stories

A Downtown Library, Block 21 Duet

Getting Austin's new flagship Downtown library built by 2012 is one challenge; operating the larger facility after it opens will be another. Planning ahead for sustainable funding, the city is establishing a special $10 million fund bankrolled by the city's sale of Block 21 Downtown, as part of an agreement with the Austin Public Library Foundation.

"This would be very, very innovative," said Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley of the funding approach. "We've never done anything like this before. If you go to a bigger space, you're going to [need] more money, and that's always difficult." Historically, the library's budget has been among the first cut in tight city-budget years and economic downturns; the special fund would ensure a steady level of operational funding.

While library design and construction costs will largely be covered by the $90 million in bonds approved by voters last November, library advocates have been concerned for some time about providing sufficiently for operating costs – anticipated to be an additional $1 million more than the current $3 million budget annually. A more spacious main library is needed primarily to expand the entire public library system's collections, services, and programs. While the $90 million theoretically includes funds to expand the collection (books, CDs, DVDs) by 20% and to nearly double the number of public-use computer stations, significantly more funding clearly will be needed. The prospect of getting a gorgeous new library only to see it soon forced to reduce its hours and services due to budget cuts is all too real.

In addition to the $10 million from the city, the APLF is finalizing a trust agreement with the city based on the foundation raising $5 million through private and corporate donations over the next decade and $5 million coming from interest on the monies. On May 3, City Council directed the city manager to negotiate with the foundation the specifics of the special fund and how it would be managed. The APLF currently raises funds annually for library programs, equipment, and holdings that city general fund budget allocations can't stretch to cover.

The new 250,000-square-feet central library (with only 170,000 square feet initially finished, due to budget constraints) will be built near Town Lake two blocks west of City Hall, at Second and San Antonio; the city is working toward removal of the decommissioned Green Power Plant on the site and creation of a new street grid for the large parcel. The new library is expected to attract, on average, up to 80% more users than the 1,300 folks who now use the Faulk Library daily. They'll come not only to reference books and the Internet but to attend community meetings and cultural and family programs, use the small-business and career center, and sip a literary espresso in the cafe.

And what's up with library patron Block 21? Lending more celebrity sheen is the announcement that "Magic" Johnson, through his socially responsible investment company, Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, will invest $50 million in the $260 million Stratus Properties project. Construction on the site just north of City Hall now is scheduled to start in August or September; the mixed-use project features a handsome and environmentally sustainable (certified gold by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) architectural design by Andersson-Wise Architects. A relatively slender and sensitively scaled tower will house KLRU's offices, plus a luxe W Hotel with 250 rooms and about 200 condos.

Architect Arthur Andersson emphasizes that the project's commitment to sustainability and the attention to creating an informal, Austintatious streetscape experience should be credited to developer Beau Armstrong, who is lead for Stratus Properties. At street level, Austinites will enjoy a new Austin Children's Museum, a lushly landscaped public plaza, 20,000 square feet of shops, a hotel restaurant, and Austin City Limits. During show tapings, one exciting idea is to broadcast the music performances out on the public plaza. Won't it be quintessentially Austin if guitar riffs turn out to be audible at the library, a few blocks away?

*Oops! The following correction ran in the May 18, 2007 issue: In a May 11 story on the city's funding proposal for a new central library ("Developing Stories: A Downtown Library, Block 21 Duet"), we quoted Council Member Betty Dunkerley on the proposal, as reported in a May 3 press release from the Austin Public Library Foundation. It turns out Dunkerley's quote originated in an April 27 Austin American-Statesman story by Susannah Gonzales. We are happy to correct the oversight and acknowledge Gonzales' reporting.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Block 21
Austin Children's Museum: No go on Block 21
Austin Children's Museum: No go on Block 21
The Austin Children's Museum has decided not to be a part of the sexy Block 21 development after all

Robert Faires, Oct. 5, 2007

Block 21 Plans Getting Around
Block 21 Plans Getting Around
High-profile renderings highlight combination of hotel, museum, and music venues for Downtown

Kimberly Reeves, Jan. 12, 2007

More Developing Stories
Developing Stories: Waller Creek: $34 Million Runs Through It
Developing Stories: Waller Creek: $34 Million Runs Through It
Will the Waller Creek Master Plan hold water?

Katherine Gregor, April 16, 2010

Developing Stories: Future Mobility: Shaping the Transportation Bonds
Developing Stories: Future Mobility: Shaping the Transportation Bonds
Urban rail is what you won't see this November – so what will you see?

Katherine Gregor, March 26, 2010


Downtown Library, Block 21, Developing Stories

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle