Irvine mayor advances central library concept

Mayor Steven Choi’s vision for an Irvine metropolitan central library in the Orange County Great Park moved a step forward with the City Council directing staff to prepare a preliminary cost estimate for the project.

Choi raised the concept as a priority last year and developed a steering committee to marshal private contributions for the project, which he anticipates will cost $150 million. Other council members speculate the final tally could be higher.

“I realize that a cost estimate at this early point cannot be exact,” Choi said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, “but we would benefit by having some understanding of the magnitude and cost of operating this important project.”

Irvine currently has three Orange County Public Library branches. The Great Park master plan calls for the establishment of a central library within an area dubbed the Cultural Terrace.

“I firmly believe a great city needs a great library,” Choi said.

“It is one of the top priorities, not the top priority, not my top priority,” said Councilwoman Christina Shea, expressing reservations. “I’m concerned about the way we’re doing this. It actually should go through the Great Park process, through the Cultural Terrace review, as we always indicated we were going to be doing.”

Shea added that she favored planning the central library as a “footprint” to start, with further build-out as resources are secured.

Other council members voiced similar concerns about committing city dollars before the scope of the project is thoroughly understood. Choi reiterated that the cost estimate was only a first step toward development he would like to see completed within a decade.

The mayor said he envisions a high-end estimate of $50 million being provided by Irvine’s philanthropic community through the establishment of a library foundation. The bulk of the funding would come from taxes already designated for the project, as well as state and county resources.

Choi said he wants to build a state-of-the-art library that will serve not only as a resources and study facility, but as a cultural center. He mentioned amenities like an auditorium, seminar rooms and a coffee shop.

“Our legacy to our community is something that should last to the next century or beyond,” he said.

The council voted 4 to 1 to have the staff file a report by Feb. 10. Shea cast the dissenting vote.