ST. PETERSBURG — Speaking in front of a small crowd gathered on the front lawn of the city’s main library, Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Monday that the facility will get a $6 million renovation and be renamed in honor of President Barack Obama.
The announcement coincided with Presidents’ Day and Black History Month.
Kriseman said discussions began more than a year ago about how St. Petersburg could pay tribute to the nation’s first African-American president, "a man who served honorably for two terms and has already been ranked by historians as one of our better presidents."
Input was sought from community leaders, among them Kai Warren of the Historic Roser Park neighborhood.
"It was universally supported by everybody," said Warren of the group he described as diverse and made up of more than a dozen people.
The mayor noted that cities across America and the world have already begun to honor Obama’s legacy by naming schools and streets after him, but St. Petersburg felt that a library, "where books are read, ideas are exchanged, research is conducted and where forums and lectures can take place," was the most appropriate vehicle.
"And that’s what I’m really the most excited about, what’s going to happen inside this library, with materials that focus not only on President Obama, but all of our presidents, and so much more," Kriseman said.
Library director Mika Nelson, who read an excerpt from Emma Lazarus’ poem, The New Colossus, said during Monday’s announcement that the public library represents "the pinnacle of the democratic republic" and that its doors are open to everyone. Nelson said the library is soliciting feedback for its new focus.
Stephanie Owens, an appointee in the Obama and Clinton administrations, drew applause as she listed some of Obama’s achievements.
Much of the library’s renovation will be done with funds from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax. However, that money will not be available until 2020. Ben Kirby, a Kriseman spokesman, said the mayor and staff "are exploring ways to get the work done earlier."
Some work — 42 additional parking spaces at a cost of $570,000 — already has been budgeted and will begin this fall, city architect Raul Quintana said. Other improvements to the 55-year-old library at 3745 Ninth Ave. N will include ADA-compliant restrooms, an upgraded rear patio and outdoor gathering space, and reconfiguration of interior spaces with new programming areas. The facility last got a makeover in 2009, with $1 million worth of work.
Kirby said a new sign with the Obama name probably will not go up until renovations are complete. Meanwhile, the City Council must approve the change. The decision is unlikely to face much opposition, since the council is overwhelmingly Democrat.
""They all have been briefed and they all seem as enthusiastic as the mayor," Kriseman’s policy chief Kevin King said. "We’re not looking at this as a political issue, but it’s due process."
In 2014, during Kriseman’s first year in office, the Wildwood Recreation Center in the city’s Midtown area was renamed after Thomas "Jet" Jackson, a longtime city employee known for mentoring young people and as a pioneer in organizing youth sports during segregation. Though the St. Petersburg city code bars naming public buildings after a living person, the council waived that rule to allow the center to be renamed.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.