Metro sale of Former Ben West Library under scrutiny - WSMV News 4

Metro sale of Former Ben West Library under scrutiny

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The former Ben West Library carries a lot of history inside its concrete walls.

It first opened in 1904 as the Carnegie Library. Since then, Metro Council and government offices have both filled the space, now known as the Former Ben West Library. But for the last 11 years, it's been vacant.

Last Tuesday, after years of debate, Metro Council voted overwhelmingly to sell the property.

John Cooper is one of two council members who voted against the sale of the historic property.

The chair of the Budget and Finance Committee said the city is not getting the best value for the building and has undersold other major properties recently. He has vowed to fight for every penny when Metro looks to sell properties downtown.

"The downtown convention center sold for $5 million. The Rolling Mill Hills sold at half the appraised value. The city has a consistent record now of selling downtown assets all of which are jewels for really not that much money," Cooper said.

The library was appraised at about $4.5 million.

As a part of the sale agreement, Hastings Architecture will buy the property from the city for $2 million and turn it into office space.

Metro owns only 63 percent of the building. The remaining 37 percent belongs to the heirs of the original donor James McLanahan. The original agreement stipulated that if the building was ever used as anything other than a library, the heirs would regain their part of the ownership. Those nine descendants will receive $2 million in the sell; the same cash amount as the Metro.

The council agreed that the city would be able to use an auditorium in the new building once a month over the next several years. The estimated value of that "right of use" agreement is approximately $500,000, bringing the city's total sell value to $2.5 million.

Cooper said there is no way to truly place a numeric value on the monthly room use. He said the city should.

Cooper takes issue with the fact that the city is getting the same cash amount although it owns more of the property. He also said the historic property is going for less than other prime real estate.

An uneven parking lot off of Lea Avenue and Palmer Place, for example, is selling for $1.2 million, and people have already put in offers.

"I'm very interested in the citizens, the taxpayers, becoming aware of some of the prices that we have sold downtown assets for," Cooper said.

While Cooper does not support the sale of the building, he is happy Hastings Architecture will be the new owner.

"I believe as a bit of a labor of love is going to remodel it and cherish the building, so that's a great user for this,” Cooper said.

He said Metro could have used the space to build much-needed office space.

"You can be sold on the idea that, wow, that must be a white elephant. But, in reality, a great city would treasure these assets and make them useful to all of the citizens," Cooper added.

The sale of The Old Ben West Library will be final in the next few weeks.

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