Old Public Market may be new Public Library


From breads to books? The Portland Public Market. (photo/Sean Wilkinson)
From breads to books? The Portland Public Market. (photo/Sean Wilkinson)

Old Public Market may be new Public Library 
City and Library in secret talks to buy Market

By Chris Busby

The former Portland Public Market could be the new home of the Portland Public Library’s main branch on Congress Street. 

City officials are in talks to purchase the former market building on Preble Street for between $2.5 million and $3 million, according to documents obtained this evening by The Bollard. The Libra Foundation, which built the market in the late 1990s for about $6 million, sold the building last summer to the investment firm Guggenheim Real Estate LLC as part of a package of downtown properties listed for $65 million (the purchase price has not been disclosed). 

According to the “concept” plan outlined in the documents, funding for the purchase would come from $2 million in bond money voters previously approved for library renovation, plus an additional $500,000 raised by the library itself, which has been conducting an ongoing private fundraising campaign for its original renovation plans. 

Because the public bond funds would be used for the former market, rather than for renovation of the library’s existing main branch – as the original bond order stipulated – a special vote to approve amending the original order would have to take place. The concept plan envisions a citywide vote on this amendment next March, and renovation of the former market beginning in late spring or early summer of next year.

The concept plan states that the library would retain use of the main branch’s basement for storage and offices and continued public use of Rines Auditorium. It would pay no rent, but cover some operating costs. 

“The City and the Library would work to sell the existing Library Building,” according to the concept plan. “In all likelihood the building would be turned into a condominium.” 

It’s not clear from the concept plan how city officials determined the “likelihood” of this outcome. The plan contains no reference to potential buyers of the library building. City officials were discussing this plan in a closed-door session this evening, followed by a formal City Council meeting on other matters, and could not be reached for comment. 

The concept plan further states: “The target date for sale of condominium units above the basement in the old Library Building would be early 2008.” 

Proceeds from the sale of the library building would be used to help cover the library’s relocation costs. 

A preliminary architectural sketch shows an area for “teens” in the space formerly occupied by Maverick’s Steak House, a café where the restaurant Scales last did business, and areas for audio-visual materials, “children’s services,” and fiction and non-fiction books. 

The market’s second level would house additional non-fiction and research materials and The Portland Room, home of the library’s special collection of rare books and manuscripts. Racks of magazines and a public reading/study area would be located above the café. The concept plan notes that a “partial second deck” could be added to the market space if needed, and a “small building” could be built between the former market and library for library use.

Guggenheim Real Estate could not be reached late this evening, but the city documents indicate the investment firm “has ‘offered’ the building to the City/Library” for the $2.5-$3 million figure. “The sooner the closing, the lower the price,” the documents note. 

A timeline attached to the plan predicts a City Council vote on this deal either Nov. 20 or Dec. 6.

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