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Rebuilding Libraries for the 21st Century

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Rebuilding Libraries for the 21st Century

Milwaukee Public Library, Wis.

Library Operations & Management | Top Innovator

Innovation Synopsis


In 2010, MPL was facing the need to spend substantial tax dollars to maintain increasingly outdated, technologically inefficient, and unattractive branch libraries that would eventually need to be replaced. This unsustainable situation and the steady deterioration of library facilities and services driven by budget pressures was the catalyst for adopting an alternative approach to planning and funding the replacement of branch libraries. The plan devised a branch system that incorporates mixed-use, express, larger area, and moderately-sized traditional library models to meet the goals of quality service while realizing equivalent cost savings. In response to the plan, a local developer proposed a partnership with MPL during this time period and the result was the first mixed-use library development at Villard Square Branch.

Key Elements of Innovation

MPL and developers agree to share ownership through a condominium association and a reliable financing structure. The developer’s financing for Villard Square incorporated tax credits, bank loans, ARRA Section 1602 funds from WHEDA and CDBG grants from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce and the City of Milwaukee. The City partnered with the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee to creatively utilize New Market Tax Credits to reduce the City’s capital outlay for the purchase of the library space. The City’s additional $1.5 million plus some private support resulted in an overall $11 million investment in the Villard Avenue neighborhood.

Achieved Outcomes

With support from the City Attorney’s office, MPL is gaining valuable experience in negotiating each new developer agreement and ensuring that it supports the library’s programmatic and development needs, takes advantage of real estate opportunities and allows MPL to dedicate funding to the library build-out rather than the purchase of property. Spurred by the success of Villard Square Branch, MPL completed a second highly successful public-private partnership at the East Branch, and is now seeking four additional developer partners to replace branches that are in the greatest need of capital investment. Community engagement throughout the process has yielded overwhelming support for the completed projects and increased use of library services. This strategy allows MPL to replace or renovate the entire branch library system by 2020.