Turning the page — Carnegie Library to expand its busy Downtown branch

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is plotting a major expansion of its Downtown branch.

By  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

December 12, 2019

Pittsburgh –  

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is plotting a major expansion of its Downtown branch.

As part of a new lease deal reached with McKnight Realty Partners earlier this year, the library will be adding more than 8,000 square feet of space at its current location in the Smithfield Building, with plans to offer more services to visitors.

But patrons might not like the plot line. The branch will close for about a year — starting in February — while the space undergoes extensive renovations.

The decision to stay at 612 Smithfield St., which also houses the Brooks Brothers clothing store and several other businesses, comes after the library looked at a possible relocation to increase the Downtown branch’s footprint.

“We have outgrown our current location and, after an extensive community process, are excited with the opportunity to create a larger library for our patrons on Smithfield Street,” spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes said.

As part of the expansion, the library is taking over the first and second floors of the building. It will increase the total square footage from 12,700 square feet to 21,390 square feet and add part of the Brooks Brothers second-floor space.

In the past, the branch has operated out of the basement level and the first floor.

“We’re happy to accommodate their expansion and we’re thrilled at their continued tenancy at the Smithfield Building,” said Izzy Rudolph, McKnight Realty president of development and acquisitions. “It shows the continued vibrancy of the Smithfield and Sixth corridor.”

The library hopes to begin renovations in February, prompting the closing of the branch for the duration of the project, Ms. Thinnes said. Construction is expected to take a year.

During the closing, the library plans to offer a small temporary space at another location Downtown for patrons to drop off and pick up materials like books, documents and videos. The temporary site has yet to be determined, Ms. Thinnes said.

Earlier this year, the library received a $500,000 state redevelopment assistance capital grant to help with the Downtown branch improvements.

According to its grant application, the library plans to demolish the existing interiors of the first and second floors. It also will be upgrading systems like lighting, electrical, and air conditioning and heating, and adding an elevator.

The renovated space will feature areas for children, teens and adults “to read, learn, create, and connect with others,” according to a project description accompanying the grant.

More meeting rooms will be available. In addition, flexible space will be offered to support community partnerships and services.

The Downtown branch is one of the Carnegie’s busiest sites.

It includes a children’s library and offers free Wi-Fi and public computers. According to the library’s website, the branch also is home to an extensive collection of professional databases.

The branch has leased space in the 85,000-square-foot Smithfield Building since 2005. It has sought to expand in order to keep up with the residential growth and the influx of new businesses Downtown since it first moved to the location.

Among the sites the library apparently looked at before deciding to stay put was the former Kaufmann’s/Macy’s department store on Smithfield between Fifth and Forbes avenues. That building features about 100,000 square feet of retail on the first and second floors in addition to apartments and a 160-room Even Hotel on the other levels.

Philadelphia developer Core Realty is in the process of selling the property, which it purchased for $15 million in 2015, to Florida-based Fontainebleau Development. Both have been trying to recruit Target, the popular Minneapolis-based retailer, to take about 25,000 square feet in the building.

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