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Superior to buy Carnegie Library

After putting restrictions on spending for repairs and adding a requirement to market the building for sale in 18 months, a majority of Superior City Councilors approved spending $175,000 to buy the building from The Library Superior LLC.

(Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com) A $2.5 million renovation of the historic Carnegie library in Superior is underway.
The city of Superior will purchase the Carnegie Library on Hammond Avenue to make repairs before attempting to sell it.
Jed Carlson / Telegram file
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SUPERIOR — The city of Superior will purchase the Carnegie Library at 1204 Hammond Ave., for $175,000.

After capping how much the city administration could pay for repairs and placing a requirement that the building be put up for sale in 18 months, the council split 7-3 at its meeting Tuesday, July 19, to approve purchasing the building from The Library Superior LLC, owned by Andy Osterlund.

Councilors Jack Sweeney, Brent Fennessey and Mark Johnson were opposed to purchasing the long-vacant structure that served as the city’s main branch library for 90 years. The building has been vacant since 1992 when the library moved to its current location on Tower Avenue. Councilors Nicholas Ledin, Warren Bender, Tylor Elm, Ruth Ludwig, Mike Herrick, Lindsey Graskey and Jenny Van Sickle voted to approve the purchase.

The city is not the place to bail out a bad investment, Fennessey said. While the Carnegie Library needs to be saved, he said the city doesn’t have to own the building to pay for a new roof to keep rain from causing further damage.

Sweeney said he didn’t have enough information about the viability of a sale to make a decision to buy the building.

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To make the building viable, Mayor Jim Paine said money has to go into it. However, the mayor offered an amendment to cap renovations and improvements at $325,000. The money would come from historic preservation funds the city received from American Rescue Plan Act, and would require officials to market the building for sale 18 months after it is purchased.

“If we want to put more money into it, we would have to come to you to justify it,” Paine said.

Any additional expenditures would require council approval; however, the proposed $325,000 would be enough to do a lot of the initial work the council has discussed.

Councilors Graskey and Herrick made the motion to amend the resolution to include the spending cap and the requirement to sell the building, which was accepted by the council.

“I’ve been involved in historic preservation for years, and I’ve learned a lot,” said Teddie Meronek, a retired librarian who worked in both of Superior’s Carnegie libraries, including serving as the last librarian at the branch in East End. “What I’ve learned over the years is you can’t save every building ... but you need to save this building. This building means a lot to the people of Superior, and it means a lot to people who don’t live in Superior.”

The library on Hammond Avenue was the first of 63 libraries built in Wisconsin with funding from industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

“It stood on that corner for 120 years with the generosity of Andrew Carnegie and the Hammond family who donated the property,” Meronek said.

The challenge for renovating the building is an equity gap, and officials are going to have to find a way to fill that gap if the city is going to save the building, said architect Tim Meyer, chairman of the historic preservation commission that made it a top priority for the historic preservation fund.

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Van Sickle asked if the council had ever purchased a building and sold it for redevelopment in the past.

After Douglas County took the New York Block at 1402-1412 Tower Avenue for tax deed in 2003, the city purchased the building and sought proposals. The building now has senior living and commercial space, said Jason Serck, economic development, port and planning director.

Serck noted that the New York Building was in rougher shape than the library is now before the $5 million renovation project.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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