An interior rendering of what the downtown Santa Cruz library might look like.
An interior rendering of what the downtown Santa Cruz library might look like.
(Provided by city of Santa Cruz, rendering by Group 4 Architecture, Research + Planning, Inc.)

Timeline for new Santa Cruz library development revealed, but aspects of big project still in flux

Plans for the new downtown Santa Cruz library are starting to come together. Here’s the latest on the development — and what’s coming up next.

Santa Cruz’s new downtown library — part of a larger development that includes affordable housing and a parking garage — could be completed as early as 2025, according to a recently released timeline. Construction is scheduled to begin in late 2022 or early 2023 and take two years.

Here’s the latest on the project and what’s coming up next:

The big picture

After years of back and forth, the Santa Cruz City Council in June approved the new library to replace the 52-year-old library building on Church Street. The new library will anchor a mixed-use development with at least 50 affordable housing units and a 400-space parking garage.

One aim of the project is to make the library a vibrant space used by a broad swath of the community. The new library will expand the amount of public space, devoting more than 30,000 square feet to open areas, conference rooms and other amenities, according to preliminary designs.

In October, council members hired Griffin Structures, a firm with experience designing municipal buildings and libraries, to oversee design of the development. As those plans come together, specific elements of it will go back before the council for discussion and approval.

Library cost

Library construction is being largely funded by “Measure S,” a financing deal approved by 70% of Santa Cruz voters in 2016 that lets Santa Cruz Public Libraries take out a $67 million loan to pay for library construction and upgrades.

The new library will cost between $25 million and $35 million, according to a facilities master plan. This cost is for the library only.

A sample rendering of what the new downtown Santa Cruz library could look like.
A sample rendering of what the new downtown Santa Cruz library could look like. The design of the mixed-use project will be finalized by 2022, according to a recent project timeline.
(Provided by city of Santa Cruz, rendering by Group 4 Architecture, Research + Planning, Inc.)

Housing plans and cost

Among the project’s goals is to build more affordable-housing units for people who meet certain income thresholds. The library development, between Cedar, Lincoln and Cathcart streets, would create at least 10 moderate-income units, 20 low-income units, and 20 very-low-income units, according to city staff.

There are still a lot of unknowns about the housing aspect of the project. It hasn’t been determined whether the affordable units would be apartments, condominiums or a mix of both — and the overall number of housing units in the development hasn’t been decided, either.

As a result, there aren’t any definitive cost estimates. The cost of building a single affordable housing unit typically ranges from $350,000 to $450,000 per unit, but can inflate to up to $700,000 per unit in certain projects, according to city estimates.

The city is setting aside $2 million to $3 million from its Affordable Housing Trust Fund — a fund developers pay in to in exchange for rights to build for-market units downtown — to help pay for the development, Economic Development Director Bonnie Lipscomb said. Lipscomb also said she believed the project would be a strong contender for funding from state and federal grants, as well as tax credits.

“What’s outstanding is actually the number of units and trying to maximize that,” Lipscomb said. “Those are the areas that we still need to work out, but we’re feeling pretty confident about the funding at this point.”

“The city is very excited to be moving forward the Downtown Library Mixed Use Project,” added project manager Amanda Rotella, “as it puts into practice many of our goals for downtown.”

A key step this year will be hiring a developer to work on the affordable housing component. Seven developers have expressed an interest in working on this portion of the project. That pool will be narrowed so the city has a contractor by the end of the summer, Rotella said.

A preliminary rendering of the children's section of the new downtown library in Santa Cruz.
A preliminary rendering of the children’s section of the new downtown library in Santa Cruz.
(Provided by city of Santa Cruz, rendering by Group 4 Architecture, Research + Planning, Inc.)

Parking garage

By some estimates, the city will lose 369 — about 10% of its 2,950 — public parking spots in coming years to other developments, so the planned 400-space garage would make up for some of that loss.

The garage, which was originally slated to have 600 spaces, remains a controversial part of the development. Some critics argue it takes away space that could be used for more housing. Others say the additional parking goes against the city’s eco-friendly future vision because it encourages vehicle traffic.

The parking structure will be paid for using funds from city parking-garage and parking-meter collections. It is estimated to cost between $20 million and $26 million, though that could change depending on the design, construction timeline and other factors.

Farmers’ market to relocate

The downtown farmers’ market, which sets up shop each week on the lot that will become the new library, eventually will relocate to a parking lot at the intersection of Cathcart Street and Front Street.

Re-use of the old library site

Where the current library stands, the city will create something new. What that something is has yet to be determined. The city council has discussed using the site for additional housing, or as a downtown commons, among other ideas.

As of early January, the city had received four “really strong proposals from reputable firms” for how to host community conversations about re-use of the Church Street property, according to city staff. Those pitches are being reviewed, and a three-month-long engagement process will follow before the community-generated ideas go to city council for consideration, Rotella said.


5:00 PM, Feb. 02, 2021: A previous version of this story used an incorrect job title for Amanda Rotella. She is the project manager for the library mixed-use development.