As expected, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved selling Tacoma’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. branch library to a local medical company for $700,000 — but not without some reservations.
It wasn’t that the council wasn’t happy to sell the property to Lizotte P&O Associates — the sole bidder for the low-slung concrete block building at South 19th and Cedar Street in Central Tacoma.
After all, the medical firm offered $40,000 above what the city had valued the property, and agreed to a 5-year restrictive covenant that essentially ensures Lizotte will do with the property what had been proposed.
The Lizotte partnership, which already operates a medical equipment business nearby, plans to open a clinic specializing in fitting prosthetics in part of the old library, while opening the nonprofit Diabetic Foot Health Resource Center, dedicated to preventing limb loss, in another part of the building. A bid selection committee that included the Tacoma Public Library Director Susan Odencrantz and Tricia DeOme, vice chair of the Central Neighborhood Council, also recommended the sale.
“As sad as it is to sell a library,” DeOme told the council Tuesday, “I think they’re a good fit.”
But Council members Ryan Mello and David Boe wondered whether having a nonprofit in part of the building would keep the property off of private property tax rolls.
“That’s a great question,” responded Conor McCarthy, an assistant public works division manager overseeing the property sale. ”I don’t know the answer to that question right now.”
During future city surplus property sales, Mello noted “getting properties back on the tax rolls as much as possible would be a strong criteria for me.”
“Its not an `always,’” Mello added, “but I think its something that should be considered.”
Boe noted that, because the nonprofit would be considered a tenant of the for-profit medical business, he assumes the property will be fully returned to the tax rolls. Boe added he and Councilman Jake Fey already have started a discussion in a council committee about ensuring future city bidding processes involving surplus property sales consider such property tax issues.
Councilwoman Lauren Walker and Mello also expressed disappointment at the city potentially losing the MLK name.
“It pains me to lose that namesake,” Mello said.
McCarthy suggested the new owner might be agreeable to retaining the name, while Mello suggested that perhaps another city library branch can take on the MLK moniker.
Due to budget cuts, the Tacoma Library Board of Trustees reluctantly closed the MLK and Swan Creek branches in 2011 and later agreed to sell the branches. Both properties, which opened in the late 1980s from a $15.8 million bond approved by voters in 1984, were put up for sale this year. Swan Creek, a similar structure on Portland Avenue valued by the city at $400,000, received no offers.
Still to be determined is how the city will use the money garnered from the sale. Part of the proceeds — $46,474 — must be refunded to the city’s Community Development Block Grant Fund program, while the remaining $653,526 would go into the general fund.