Ravenna library renovations call for street parking removal, city council will decide

Ravenna’s Reed Memorial Library is planning massive renovations, but one part has hit a snag.

City council is considering, but has not yet approved, removing 10 parking spaces that line Main Street in front of the library.

Council favors most of the multi-faceted renovation project, but losing the 10 spaces is a concern, Council President Andrew Kluge said. He’s waiting for comments from Mayor Frank Seman.

“The question really is, is it in the best interest to vacate those spots, and here’s why. That’s what we’re looking for, the ‘here’s why,’” Kluge said.

In an interview, Seman pitched the question right back to council, saying they have the vote, not him.

“In terms of the guidance on it, I like the plan that [library leadership] presented,” he said. “I can say what I think, but council has to take action on it. Right now they’re in committee, and they haven’t pulled it out of committee.”

The library, which library Director Amy Young described as “one bookend” of Ravenna’s historic downtown area, should have the same wide sidewalks she sees in front of other Main Street businesses.

“We would push the sidewalk out a little, and in our green space in front of the library we would add some barriers. We just want people to be able to sit on the historic stairs into the original section of our library, and maybe enjoy some of the outdoor music or sit and watch the Balloon-A-Fair parade go down the street,” she said.

As for the parking spaces, “They’re not used most of the time,” Young said. “They’re used about 1% of the time that they are open all day. We’ve been keeping track of who parks there, and how often, and presented those specifics to the city. They’re really not used.”

An expanded, friendlier front lawn adorned with benches would separate patrons and pedestrians from traffic, and would “help our patrons feel more connected to the rest of downtown where they could maybe walk down the street, grab a cup of coffee at Bean and the Baker, and grab a newspaper or magazine, and sit outside, and just enjoy the city, and feel like like a part of it,” Young said.

Plans for the back of the building include reconfiguring the parking lot so moving vehicles are separated from pedestrians. Young also envisions outdoor programming space with a covered shelter.

“Our goal is to revitalize the library and the neighborhood, celebrate the history of our building and our city, and add much needed programming space as we increase our services to the community,” Young said.

Should council decide not to nix the 10 parking spaces, other parts of the renovation project will proceed, she said.

City council first learned of the proposed renovation project in May 2022, when Matt Harper, chairman of council’s Streets and Sidewalks committee, met with library leadership. When council first heard the full proposal in August 2022, they apparently understood that the city was expected to finance the project.

That, Kluge said, wasn’t going to happen. The matter seemed to stop there, so Streets and Sidewalks committee members were puzzled to see it appear again on their November 2022 agenda.

“We didn’t have any other information, other than input from residents who were opposed to the project,” Kluge said. “Without more information, there was nothing for us to act on. We didn’t feel like we had enough information to act on it.”

Young recently appeared before council to correct what Kluge termed “some misinformation,” and detailed the project to council members. The project is actually being financed by the library’s capital improvement fund, which is filled with taxpayer dollars raised by library levies.

Reed Memorial Library serves more than 120,000 cardholders from across the county, and brings almost 10,000 patrons a month to Ravenna’s downtown area, Young said.

The city does not own the library, but because tax-payer funded entities cannot accrue debt, the city does hold the building as collateral for a loan it provided for a 2005 addition. The proposed renovation project would not involve approaching the city for more debt, Young said.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.