The Seaport just might get a library after all.
After pushing, with little apparent success, to get a public library included in plans to develop 12.5 remaining acres of the booming district, State Representative Nick Collins tucked $10 million into a state spending bill recently passed by the House.
That doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. The money will need approval by the Senate and the signature of Governor Charlie Baker.
And any library would require years of planning and buildout. But it’s the first step toward creating the sort of free public space that many say the Seaport desperately needs.
“We think it’s a great opportunity,” Collins said.
Collins, a Democrat who represents South Boston, is among those who have complained that the burgeoning district is being built without enough of the places — like a library — that make a neighborhood feel like home. As WS Development finalized plans to put housing, office buildings, and retail on 12.5 acres of parking lots, Collins pressed the developer to add a library to the project, known as Seaport Square.
But when the Boston Planning & Development Agency approved the developer’s plan Nov. 16, it required two performing arts centers, but no library. That same week, however, Collins inserted a provision into a large state bond bill that would set aside $10 million for “creation and construction of a Boston Public Library branch on the South Boston Waterfront.”
Senators could still bulk up — and further complicate — the legislation by adding their own pet projects to the legislation before both chambers hash out a final version to send to Baker. Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, whose district includes South Boston, said in a joint interview with Collins that she, too, supports a library, particularly one that could double as a community center.
“We think it’s very creative,” Forry said.
The plan for the 7.7 million-square-foot Seaport Square does set aside two 5,000-square-foot spaces — in separate buildings — for “civic, education, or cultural” uses. If a library branch fills one of those spaces, it would be the smallest in the Boston Public Library system, though a Collins spokesman said he’d like to see all 10,000 square feet devoted to a library, which would be on par with many city branches.
Either way, Collins and Forry are proposing a “nontraditional” library that would put more focus on computers and community space than books.
Collins said they have discussed the idea with WS Development. A company executive had no comment last week, but in a recent statement the firm said it is “open-minded about all possibilities.”
Officials with the Walsh administration and the Boston Public Library, meanwhile, are taking a wait-and-see approach, saying they’re aware of Collins’s push but not promising anything.
Library officials deferred questions to the BPDA, which declined to comment beyond a statement from director Brian Golden.
“We appreciate Representative Collins’s efforts to secure this funding and will be working with all stakeholders involved to determine the next steps,” his statement said. “Our collective goal is to create a vibrant neighborhood on the South Boston waterfront that provides public benefits and amenities to serve the community.”
The Boston Public Library has more than $100 million in renovations and new building projects planned over the next five years, including overhauls of branches in Dudley Square and Parker Hill, a new temporary branch in Chinatown, and a new $18 million library in Uphams Corner. Its most recent facilities plan, finished in 2013, doesn’t even mention the Seaport. But library officials say they’d be open to a branch there.