For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
March 17, 2005 - Cultural Facilities and Parker
On March 8, our Parker Library hosted a panel discussion. Our stars were representatives from Denver-area cultural facilities. One speaker ran the Arvada center. One oversaw several mid-sized buildings in Lakewood. And two other speakers operated the adjoined library and cultural center in Broomfield.
It was eye-opening. These people have solved something that has thus far eluded Douglas County: how to open and operate a 500 seat performing arts venue.
The format was deceptively simple. After manager Patt Paul welcomed everyone, I asked our speakers, "What are you working on now?" They responded (Lots!), then we opened it up to the audience.
Some 60 Parker citizens had showed up, and I was impressed, as I often am, with the intelligence of our citizenry. They had one good question after another.
There were several significant findings.
* Most important was the advice to carefully consider which kinds of performing arts would be supported. As our speakers underscored (pun!), a musical venue isn't the same as a dance stage, and neither one of them is a theater. To accommodate all of these uses takes thoughtful input, and expert advice.
* There's more to a performing space than a stage. You also need room for set construction, costume and prop storage, and that rarest of finds, rehearsal space.
* All of the speakers thought their facilities were too small!
* All of the facilities required ongoing subsidy. That varied from 30% to about 50% of operational costs. But the fact that the cities still supported them points to the other half of the story. While no cultural facility makes money all by itself, it does generate a lot of economic activity. People come early to find the place, grab a bite to eat, shop the area, THEN go to the show. Businesses benefit from increased activity and sales; cities benefit from the sales taxes. Those benefits seem to outweigh the costs.
* All of the cities pointed to their cultural facilities with pride, a mark of their maturity as communities.
After this presentation, representatives of the Town of Parker asked for some feedback about an idea, as yet very preliminary. In brief, suppose we could find a way to combine a cultural center, a new library, a magnet school, and a combination of retail, office, and housing, right on East Mainstreet?
People expressed a few concerns. How would parking be handled? Perhaps through a parking structure.
How tall would or should the buildings be on Mainstreet? Town officials described the relevant guidelines.
How would Mainstreet traffic be affected? It was too soon to say -- a study would be necessary.
How would all this be paid for? It's clear that none of the potential partners currently has the resources to accomplish this, although teaming up will likely drive the costs down.
Should such a cultural facility be placed downtown -- or out where land is both cheaper and more plentiful?
That's a decision for the Town Council and the people of Parker. But here's my two cents.
Municipalities that reinvest in their cores build unique communities that people like to live in. I have observed that if cities DON'T invest in their core, they get strip malls and developments that could be anywhere or nowhere at all.
Parker is already the first town with its own small cultural center. Will it be the first town in Douglas County with the vision and commitment to fashion a model partnership between the arts and civic life?
One thing is clear: it won't be the first one in the Denver metropolitan area. That's already happened.