Moorhead voters will decide Tuesday, Nov. 8, whether to replace the badly deteriorated Moorhead Library and expand its function as a community center.
The future of the proposed new “heart of the community” rests on passage of a one-half-cent local option sales tax. Approved by the Minnesota Legislature in 2021 as a project with regional impact, the community center and regional library would be built downtown in what’s now the southwest parking lot of the Moorhead Center Mall.
The entire mall area is slated for redevelopment in coming years. In the words of Mayor Shelly Carlson, the proposed library center would be the “community living room,” bringing together library services, meeting areas, an indoor playground for children, a walking track and opportunities for add-on amenities such as an area where makers and other small businesses could incubate. She has also cited the proposed facility as a catalyst for other downtown development plans.
At the heart of the push for a new regional library and center are the pressing structural and practical issues of the present library on First Avenue South. According to Moorhead governmental affairs manager Lisa Bode, the 1960 building has developed extensive problems over the years – problems that led to its condition being flagged in the red category of properties requiring attention back in 2016.
Among the areas of concern in 2016, and today, are roof and HVAC replacement, ventilation, lighting and alarm systems replacement, and windows. City facilities and fleet manager Anthony Manzella recently updated the estimated cost of those repairs, which has increased by about 30% since the original assessment to a present estimate of $2.7 million.
Those repairs would not address another area of need – modernizing the 60-year-old building to accommodate today’s patterns of use and services. Areas for expanded children’s programming is one of the most visible needs. The areas devoted to public computer access have become central to the facility’s services; patrons use them to go online to access periodicals, do research, search and apply for jobs, study for professional testing, participate in video meetings and interviews, make virtual court appearances, and of course communicate with distant friends and family. Office space for the Lake Agassiz Regional Library system, which is headquartered in Moorhead, is severely limited.
The library, too, fills some of the functions of a community center in providing meeting spaces for all kinds of groups, from in-service training for attorneys to Boy Scouts meetings. Its small, dark basement meeting rooms limit the purposes for which it can be used.
The vote on initiating a one-half-cent city sales tax marks the first time such a funding alternative has been on the Moorhead ballot. In 2017, Clay County voters approved a county-wide half-cent tax to fund construction of the new Law Enforcement Center.
The proposal on the November ballot is estimated to raise approximately $31.5 million over 22 years, funding a 55,000-sq-ft facility. According to research by the University of Minnesota Extension Service, the additional cost to residents would be an average of just $2 per month, with visitors paying almost one-third of the total amount raised. The tax would expire after the capital cost was paid.
Passage of the tax measure would raise the local tax from 7.375% (now including that half-cent for the Law Enforcement Center) to 7.875%. Fargo and West Fargo each now levy 7.5%, but West Fargo is also weighing a local half-cent boost. That would place Moorhead’s level, including the tax under consideration, squarely in the middle. The tax would apply only to goods and services now taxed in Minnesota, not including exemptions including food and clothing.