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Mayor Tosses Proposals for the Old Central Library, Which Now Could Become a Homeless Shelter

The city asked for proposals for the old Central Library, which has been vacant since the new one opened in 2013.

Three groups responded but the mayor tossed them out. Now a new group of power brokers is scoping the property out for use as a temporary shelter for the homeless.

More than a year ago, the city’s downtown development agency called for proposals to revive the once-bustling old library that’s sat dormant since 2013.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer has decided to start over.

Faulconer quietly quashed the proposal process in January, throwing out three bids that came in last year.

Last February’s request for proposals from Civic San Diego envisioned a long-term tenant or new owner with a project that would promote San Diego’s innovation economy.

Faulconer’s team wasn’t satisfied with the responses. A spokesman said they decided to broaden the scope of possibilities.

Now, at least one group is eying the old library for use as a shelter for homeless people.

Restaurateur Dan Shea and Padres lead investor Peter Seidler, two of the power brokers who’ve become obsessed with San Diego’s homeless crisis, have for months questioned whether the library could become a shelter. Shea toured the 150,000-square foot building on Monday.

That date was significant. Monday marked the end of a 60-day period for city departments, other public agencies and affordable housing developers to call dibs on the old library site.

No one did.

It isn’t a new idea. Homeless advocates have long talked about turning the old library into a shelter.

Former City Councilman Todd Gloria and the East Village Residents Group pushed back on the concept even before the old library shut down in June 2013.

The mayor’s office has said it’s working on a public-private partnership to add at least 200 temporary beds that could shelter vulnerable homeless folks over two years. No site has been chosen.

I learned of Shea and Seidler’s interest in the old Central Library site and obtained an email Shea sent to others interested in his effort. Shea confirmed he sent the email and that his group had hit roadblocks with city staff.

For example, city staffers claimed the library floors couldn’t bear weight for shelter beds despite having supported thousands of books and shelves for almost 60 years.

Gustafson said that’s since been clarified.

“There is no issue with the floors bearing weight,” Craig Gustafson, the mayor’s spokesman, wrote in a statement to Voice of San Diego. “That was a misunderstanding by city staff that has since been corrected.”

Shea told VOSD he and Seidler got that clarification after they met with Faulconer last week.

“It looks like a very interesting property that should be on the table for full discussion to attempt to help to remediate this issue of homelessness,” Shea said. “It’s not going to solve it. It’s just one piece of a very big puzzle.”

Gustafson said the mayor is considering an array of options including sale, public use of the property or a new request for proposal process.

Gustafson said a homeless shelter is among those options.

Many other ideas have been discussed for the old library.

The police department wanted to turn it into an evidence storage center and an entrepreneur group talked about a startup hub. San Diego Unified School District, one of three groups to submit a formal bid last year, pitched a health and science-focused high school. Developer Pacifica Enterprises, which also submitted a bid, said it suggested a co-working space. Commercial and multifamily real estate firm Lincoln Property Company also submitted a formal response to Civic San Diego, though it’s not clear what it proposed.

Civic San Diego and the city would not release details on the proposals.

Last June, Civic San Diego officials hoped for a project that would have a catalytic effect on the neighborhood.

“Something to really activate the space and something that advances the vision for downtown – for this innovation technology growth area,” project manager Sherry Brooks said at the time.

They also acknowledged the buildings’ many repair needs. A recent condition assessment estimated $56 million in total capital and site costs.

Last year’s request for proposal cited some of the old library’s needs and noted the city didn’t want to sink taxpayer money into the old library.

A year later, the city’s still saddled with a vacant building.

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