Credit Union May Move Into Empty Retail Space in Library

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A credit union may move into an empty retail space on the second story of the Newport Beach main library.

The Board of Library Trustees discussed the vacant area across from Bistro 24 on the second floor expansion of the library during their meeting last week.

Staff proposed the board recommend to the Newport Beach City Council that they lease the space to the Credit Union of Southern California.

“I don’t love the idea,” trustee Jill Johnson-Tucker commented.

Since the space is located at one of the entryways into the library, the area should contain a use that is appealing to everybody, she noted. Visitors that aren’t members of the credit union would have little use for the space if it was housed there, she added. She’d prefer an art gallery, as trustees and staff had previously discussed, or another library or arts-related use.

“I’d like us to put our best foot forward and have a use that’s attractive and desirable and interesting to the entire public,” Johnson-Tucker said.

Library staff will report back to the board in June and the item will likely head to city council in July.

That space has been vacant since the Civic Center opened in May 2013, explained Library Services Director Tim Hetherton.

Tim Hetherton in front of the Newport Beach Public Library after being named the new library services director. — NB Indy File Photo by Sara Hall ©
Library Services Director Tim Hetherton in 2014 in front of the second story entrance of the Newport Beach Public Library, near where a credit union might move into an empty retail space.
— NB Indy File Photo by Sara Hall ©

“It was originally intended for the city’s credit union to move right in, but for whatever reason, they opted not to do that,” he noted.

Community Development has been looking for a tenant ever since, he added.

“The library has really been interested in getting the right kind of tenant into that (space),” Hetherton said. “The problem is, the kind of tenants that we desire really aren’t approaching us.”

Community Development tried to expand the concept by looking for a wide range of possible tenants, including a gift shop, travel agency, or nursery school. None have seemed to be a good fit for the library, the staff report reads.

“The Board of Library Trustees has always favored a lessee whose operations support the library’s mission; unfortunately, these types of entities lack the financial resources to lease the space.,” the report explains.

The amount of foot traffic they’d receive and the revenue they’d be able to generate were also factors, Hetherton added.

“The plan has always been if we couldn’t get the right tenant in there then maybe we could do something on our own,” he said.

In March, he had suggested the idea of a community art gallery. The board approved the plan and staff began to move forward.  Preparations were being made to get the community gallery in place, Hetherton explained. But in April, the Credit Union of Southern California approached the city and was very eager to explore the idea of operating in that space, Hetherton said. So the plan went in another direction.

“I think they’re a good tenant, for a lot of reasons,” Hetherton said.

They’ve recently merged with the credit union that is used by the city staff, he added, so they’ll have that market already in place.

“It’s a nice amenity for staff,” Hetherton said.

But that’s not the sole reason, he continued. They will likely bring a good amount of traffic to the library, he explained. They have about 80,000 customers, he said.

They’ll also generate some revenue that could help fund library and cultural arts programs, and they intend to join the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, donate to local charitable organizations, and participate and support a variety of Newport Beach community events.

It’s also important to consider that the space was originally intended for a credit union, Hetherton noted. The design and layout of the space may not work as well with other uses, he said.

Financially, it cost about $48,000 to set up the space the way it is now, according to staff. This amount includes the installation of custom cabinetry and specialized electrical work for the staff work stations.

It would cost the library about $5,000 to tear everything out, reroute the wiring and repair the walls and carpet, Hetherton added. There would also be other costs associated with reconfiguring it to a new use, like adding new cabinets, carpet, paint, graphics, new amenities, display cases, and more. Staff estimated that could cost about $20,000.

Also, if it was used as a gallery, staging fine art in the space would likely cause the liability insurance to increase, Hetherton added.

“I would love it if someone would come in and pay rent to do an art gallery or a library gift shop,” Hetherton said. “(But) I have to look at the cards I’ve been dealt. Also, I have to be sensitive to what the city originally intended there.”

Johnson-Tucker wasn’t particularly fond of the credit union idea. Other than the ATM, there’s no benefit to have a credit union in that space, she pointed out.

Friends of the Library bookstore customers ask about an ATM machine approximately every day, noted Eleanor Palk, Secretary of the Board.

Johnson-Tucker was excited about using it as an art gallery, which would also bring in foot traffic.

“Bodies that are brought in to look at art are equally valuable as bodies brought in to use a credit union,” she said.

Also, the big issue isn’t how much money can be raised in this space, she said.

“The bigger issue is the blank space can’t remain empty, it’s just unattractive, it’s an eyesore,” she explained.

She would prefer to see something that would fit better with the library.

Board Chair Robyn Grant agreed, to some extent.

“It would be fabulous to have a use that was more library or arts related,” Grant commented. “But, I understand the economy of having a paying customer in there and I understand that the council or other representatives of the city might appreciate those funding sources in looking at tenants for there.”

She tried to find an arts related paying tenant, but it just didn’t work out, Grant noted. It’s just not feasible from their standpoint, she explained.

“I’m torn because I see the pros and cons of both sides,” she added.

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