DENVER– On Wednesday, Mayor John Hickenlooper bowed to city council requests to provide budget funding to libraries and recreation centers here, saying he would redirect money presently slated for new business incentives and homeless initiatives. The announcement acknowledges the passionate response that followed news weeks ago that the city library budget would be slashed and would likely result in the shutdown and sale of the historic Byers branch in the La Alma neighborhood downtown.
La Alma councilwoman Judy Montero, a prominent advocate for Byers, expressed relief but told the Colorado Independent that there is much work to do on the matter.
According to City Librarian Shirley Amore, the controversial decision to close Byers last month was made in light of the branch’s relative low traffic, the changing demographic in La Alma and its proximity to the Central Library. The Mayor’s budget proposed to both close the library and sell the building, one of nine Denver Carnegie library buildings in Denver. The move would have saved an estimated $600,000.
Notice of the plan spurred fierce protests in the community. Montero organized neighborhood meetings and championed Byers at City Council meetings. She said she felt there was a “moral obligation to have a library in [the] area.”
As a result of the action, Hickenlooper has elected to increase general fund spending for the libraries by $910,800. The increase will restore library hours to a number of branches across the state and allow Byers to continue to operate for one year. The move will reduce spending on homeless programs by $1,050,000. It will pull $350,000 from incentive programs meant to draw business to Denver. And roughly $40,000 will come from funds earmarked for collective bargaining.
Montero told the Colorado Independent that she is cautiously optimistic about the future of the library.
“We are going to do our very best to keep up the interest in the facilities and keep the neighborhood moving forward. What we don’t want to do is have these facilities or other facilities be on the chopping block in a year. So we are going to keep working and organizing.”
Montero is urging neighborhood residents to sign up for library cards and utilize both the library and recreational facility.
Montero echoed her response in a release to constituents Wednesday explaining that the situation is by no means settled.
“We are not in the clear, so please know that we will be facing a similar situation a year from now. I will continue to call on you for help to keep the community thriving and healthy. My goal is to prevent any potential threats to the La Alma/Lincoln Neighborhood in the future.