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City Moves to Buy Land for New Chinatown Library

By Casey Cora | December 18, 2012 7:00am
 Residents have complained that the Chicago Public Library's Chinatown branch is cramped and crowded.
Residents have complained that the Chicago Public Library's Chinatown branch is cramped and crowded.
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DNAinfo/Casey Cora

CHINATOWN — The proposed purchase of three new parcels of land brings the long-awaited construction of a new neighborhood library one step closer to reality.

The city’s public building commission on Dec. 11 approved a move to buy three lots — 2101-2115 S. Archer Ave., 2100-2110 S. Wentworth Ave. and 2114 S. Wentworth Ave. — for the construction of a new library that will feature a large reading room, meeting spaces, state-of-the-art technology and expanded on-street parking.

The measure is expected to go before the City Council next month.

Library officials said the city would use $15 million in tax increment financing to purchase land to build a new facility, a move that’s been in the works for several years as the community drummed up support to replace the cramped space at 2353 S. Wentworth Ave.

“It’s very, very crowded. The children and the adults, too, have to line up to use the computers. Our circulation is one of the tops in the city, but I feel that maybe we’re in one of the smallest buildings,” said Esther Wong, director of the nonprofit Chinese American Service League.

Theresa Mah, a policy analyst for the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, said the push for a new facility has been a years-long saga filled with twists and turns.  

Earlier this year, residents learned of a plan to dedicate two floors for library space inside a proposed mixed-use development at Wentworth Street and Archer Avenue. The plans called for the library to be housed atop a food court and retail stores.

“At the time, it looked like that would be the only way forward," Mah said. But that development was reportedly scrapped.

Then in September, Mayor Rahm Emanuel surprised residents by including in a series of Near South Side projects the construction of a new, stand-alone Chinatown library using TIF money.

Chinatown residents "have been patient and yet quite persistent over many years in making sure of us having them on our agenda,” Chicago Public Library spokeswoman Ruth Lednicer said.

If the land purchases are approved, construction would start sometime next year and wrap up in about two years, library officials said.