Landmark Denver library threatened by city budget ax

DENVER — Tiny and historic Byers Library, designed to serve local children, has been targeted for closing, a victim of the city’s $120 million budget gap. Facing mounting odds, District 9 Councilwoman Judy Montero and residents of neighborhoods surrounding the library have said they are determined to fight to extend the library’s 91-year run. But their little movement received a shot in the arm when on Friday the federal government announced funding for a neighborhood redevelopment project where planners have eyed a future library development.

William N. Byers library, Denver
William N. Byers library, Denver

“A great announcement was made today,” Montero told The Colorado Independent. She said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Sustainability Program agreed to provide the Denver Housing Authority $10 million to begin Phase One of the South Lincoln Redevelopment Master plan, which calls for the elimination outdated low-income housing units around 10th and Osage RTD light-rail station and rebuild the area as a mixed-income community. The plan suggests a library be placed near the light-rail station.

Montero explained there was not only a need for a library to serve the 800 proposed mixed-income units but also sees the funding for the South Lincoln plan as altering negotiations with Mayor John Hickenlooper’s office.

“Hopefully now we will be able to have the conversation about moving the library to 10th and Osage,” Montero said, “If we are going to be able to put a library there it will take this in a whole different direction.”

Byers Library, located at 675 Santa Fe Drive south of downtown, is one of nine constructed in Denver through a Carnegie grant. Named for William N. Byers, founder of the Rocky Mountain News, it has been serving the Lincoln Park area since 1918. It has been designated as a site to provide resources for “vulnerable children” for a numbers of those years. However, as the city finances dwindle and projections of possible future revenue decline, the mayor’s proposed budget sees closing the Byers branch library as necessary to maintain services across the Denver Public Library system.

According to Hickenlooper’s budget proposal, the city would save $604,300 by eliminating the four full-time staff positions at the library and selling the building.

But selling the library property might be tricky. Designated a historical site by the Landmark Preservation Commission, potential buyers would be restricted by the same regulations currently in place.

Although phone calls to City Librarian Shirley Amore were not immediately returned, at a press conference on Monday she said that her office had looked at closing Byers “because if we didn’t take that step, the rest of the libraries would probably be down to [operating] 20 hours a weeks.”

Amore said that Byers was the smallest and least-used branch in the city and that building restrictions limited its functionality. She said its close proximity to the Central Library also reduced its need. She added that a recent survey showed the population of vulnerable children was decreasing in the area.

“The demographics are trending more toward young urban professionals who would benefit from using the Central Library.”

Responding to the news that Byers might be closed, Santa Fe Drive Redevelopment Corporation board of directors member Veronica Barela said the federal project would clearly expand the need for such facilities.

“They are talking about doing the whole Osage project, which will create over a 1000 units of housing, with no recreation center or library. I mean, what is the city thinking? This is totally outrageous that they would propose closing the library…. Once a library is closed, it’s closed.”

Barela said that residents of the area were going to begin organizing and were looking to speak directly with Hickenlooper.

Montero said that she was not certain how the Denver Housing Authority would manage the $10 million federal grant at this point, but she noted that she would work to keep Byers open, whether in its current location or nearby.

“I want to go forward with my community meetings and watch the issue closely as it unfolds,” she said. “I just think that it is a moral obligation to have a library in that area.”

Montero will be holding a number of community meetings to discuss the closing of Byers over the next few weeks.

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