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Donor shows 'strong interest' in making seven-figure Grand Forks library gift

There's a seven-figure sum of money ready to shift the conversation on a new Grand Forks Public Library. Kristi Mishler, executive director of the local Community Foundation, said she's spoken with a donor who has "strong interest" in giving betw...

Grand Forks Public Library in Grand Forks, N.D. on July 28, 2016. (Meg Oliphant/Grand Forks Herald)
Grand Forks Public Library in Grand Forks, N.D. on July 28, 2016. (Meg Oliphant/Grand Forks Herald)

There's a seven-figure sum of money ready to shift the conversation on a new Grand Forks Public Library.

Kristi Mishler, executive director of the local Community Foundation, said she's spoken with a donor who has "strong interest" in giving between $1 million and $1.5 million to support a "midtown" library. She explained that this could mean funds used to build a new building along the South Washington Street corridor, including near the Grand Cities Mall.

"I've known for some time that there is strong interest from this potential party for a lead gift to support (the) midtown location," Mishler said. "What I know they would support is a midtown location, and not a renovation, and not a downtown location."

Mishler did not name the donor, did not offer any basic details as to his or her identity and declined to say whether the donor lives in Grand Forks.

But leaders with the Grand Forks City Council, which has appointed a committee to weigh plans for the future of a new library, pointed out that the money doesn't make a decision any more obvious. With some estimates earlier this year placing new library costs in excess of $20 million, even a $1.5 million gift might not make up the difference between a specific midtown location and another specific downtown location.

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Council member Bret Weber said that means there's more research to do before the value of the donation becomes clear, and that it's premature to treat it as a game-changer.

"There's all this talk about midtown versus downtown," he said. "Which midtown, which downtown?"

Council member Ken Vein, chairman of the committee that has been tasked with vetting plans for a new library, offered similar comments.

"That will be another piece of the puzzle when we go through this whole process," he said. "I don't think we want to circumvent the process, but it's a piece of the process."

It's not clear how the donation might work in conjunction with a "campus" concept for the library, advanced by local activists as a means of using the current library building once a new site has been built on an adjacent plot of land. The old library building could be repurposed as a children's museum or for some other community purpose, backers have said.

Mishler stressed that she wasn't fully aware of the details on a "campus" project and that the donating party might not be either. She referred to them as "reasonable people," though, who would be receptive to a well-vetted city project.

"I think the biggest thing is they're interested in keeping the library in and around the current location," she said. "They're not interested in rehab, and they're not interested in downtown."

Any new project still requires a vision from the city committee which Vein leads, as well as backing from the City Council and-most importantly-public funding. City leaders have said that a citywide vote on library funding could take place as soon as next year.

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Mishler said she's excited about the gift, and spoke more broadly about growing philanthropic efforts in the area.

"We're seeing it through the arts, and we're seeing it through the library and we're seeing it through things that we're not necessarily talking about yet, but we should talk about the way to make more things happen like this," she said.

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