MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon City Council agreed Wednesday to move forward on the Library Commons project, and signed a deal with Skagit County to buy downtown property for the project.
At the City Council meeting, members discussed seeking a consultant for design and engineering work, which is expected to cost $3.5 million and take nine to 12 months. Such a step is essential to securing grant funding.
The approximately $43 million project would combine a new library, 230-car parking garage and community center into a single facility.
Council members voted unanimously to approve a contract with Skagit County that gives the city up to three years to buy a parking lot on Kincaid Street that is across the street from the Skagit County Courthouse.
The parties agreed to a $353,000 purchase price. If the city doesn’t break ground within 10 years of buying the property, the county can buy it back for the same price.
Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau discussed a number of potential funding sources, some of which have already been utilized.
“We believe we can get to about $43 million to make this project a reality,” she said.
Boudreau said the city would likely seek a $20.9 million bond, paid for with city funds and a state Local Infrastructure Financing Tool grant.
The city was also awarded a $1 million capital projects grant from the state, and will seek more such funding this year.
Boudreau said because the project combines several uses, it can be eligible for grants designed to support library, parking, transit, broadband and green energy projects.
In conversations with members of Congress, she said she’s been told a federal infrastructure package is likely to come after work on COVID-19 relief funding is concluded, and that this is the time to be seeking federal funding.
Council member Richard Brocksmith said he supports the project, but was reluctant to commit $3.5 million for design and engineering work without the guarantee the city will find the funding it will need for construction.
“I think everyone knows I’m pretty nervous about this step,” he said.
City Public Works Director Esco Bell said the upfront costs are steep, but most grant opportunities require substantial design work to be done for the project to be considered.
“I know it’s a lot of money, but it leverages a lot,” he said.
Council member Melissa Beaton said the design costs are an investment in the city’s historic downtown, and called the project a catalyst for economic revitalization in the area.
“If we’re not going to invest, how are we going to attract developers to invest as well?” she asked.
Boudreau said while she’s confident her staff can find funding, the city can end the contract early if necessary.
She said the city has for years promised more parking downtown, and that it has an obligation to keep that promise.li
“We owe it to our community to have a vision, and to fulfill promises made in our master plan,” Boudreau said.