El Paso Public Library

Opinion Editorial: The City of El Paso, the El Paso Public Library’s Main Library Downtown, and the Dilemma of Inadequate Parking in the Downtown Arts District where the Main Library is Located

By Mark Pumphrey, Updated 11/28/2020

The El Paso Public Library’s Main Library in Downtown El Paso needs to be treated as a part of downtown development, but unfortunately it is not.  In this article, I will tell you that many of its problems concern its parking and the space around it.  I am concerned about how the redevelopment of loading and special parking spaces in Downtown El Paso will affect our Bookmobile, courier vans, and city vehicles assigned to the library that have reserved street parking at present, but I trust that the City will help El Paso Public Library Main Library advocates devise a plan for a workable solution to the problem.  

The Bookmobile staff stores materials in the Sub-Basement of the Main Library to rotate and replenish the items on the Bookmobile on a regular basis.  These materials cannot be easily loaded and unloaded from the Bookmobile as it is and to move the Bookmobile further away from the Main Library than it is now will create a great inefficiency. 

The limited parking in the loading dock is reserved for the numerous courier and delivery vans that pick up and make deliveries to the Main Library each day.  Were the Bookmobile to be parked there, it would block all of the shipping and delivery traffic in that space.  Library staff are not permitted to park their cars in the loading dock area, as it creates an obstacle for the trucks and vans attempting to pick up or make deliveries.  It is also too small for more than five vehicles at a time, and there were well beyond that number of people working at the Main Library prior to the pandemic. 

Likewise, parking the city vehicles assigned to the Main Library in the loading dock area would block the delivery vehicles and would make shipping and delivery dysfunctional.  A previous discussion Library administration had with Department of Transportation (DOT) officials led to a broader discussion of the parking problem at the Main Library, which is the number one complaint library staff hear from library patrons, literally daily.  The DOT officials urged the Library administration to include details on the larger parking issues in this report, and the following summarizes what can only be described as deplorable. 

The value of the Main Library downtown is greatly affected by the available land area to accommodate adequate parking for library patrons.  Library patrons should not have to “circle the block” seeking limited available metered parking in order to use the public library, a free city service (over the amount El Pasoans pay in city taxes, which all goes into the city’s general fund and comes back to the Library only to support a “barebones” budget for operating a Library for a city the size of El Paso).  

Library users who need to use the Main Library should not have to be preoccupied the whole time about the risk of running up time on a parking meter and getting a parking ticket unless they feed the meter. 

The Main Library is suffering from obsolescence, and the number one reason for that obsolescence is inadequate parking.  As the flagship library in the El Paso Public Library system, the Main Library should carry the banner for the image the city wants to project to El Pasoans, to visitors to the city, and to business corporations who may be considering locating in El Paso.

The main or central library in most U.S. cities comparable in size to El Paso, is viewed by city management and economic development strategists as a welcoming beacon at the center of the downtown cultural corridor that is a critical element of economic development, which is not the case in El Paso.

Witness the hostile takeover of 40% of the Main Library building by Tracey Jerome, now a Deputy City Manager, to build a Mexican American Cultural Center within the Main Library, rather than use one of her own (at the time the recommendation was made to city management and City Council) department’s severely underused museums located in the same Downtown Arts District as the Main Library. (Jerome was Director of the Department of Museums & Cultural Affairs at the time she made the recommendation to ravage the Main Library of much-needed and much-used space provided specifically for the expansion of the Main Library by a vote of the citizens of El Paso in a special Library bond in the year 2000). 

The money that citizens of El Paso voted for in the 2012 Quality of Life Bond Referendum which was intended to build a standalone Mexican American Cultural Central as recommended by El Paso’s Mexican American Cultural Institute went instead to overfund Jerome’s ego-driven Children’s Museum at a cost of $60 million dollars, as well as the Performing Arts & Entertainment Center approved in the bond which has since been distorted by City Manager Tommy Gonzalez and his wealthy handlers as a sports arena few El Pasoans want and that will be a financial albatross around the necks of the citizens of El Paso for many years to come.

Which brings me back to the issue of parking for the Main Library and all other city buildings located in the Downtown Arts District. 

Businesses and agencies looking to establish a presence at the heart of our city will not be won over by a situation in which the city buildings that make up the central cultural corridor provide limited access because adequate parking is unavailable.  With the emphasis on revitalization of downtown El Paso, nothing would be more meaningful to the populace than providing a welcoming, central Main Library.  Without adequate parking in close proximity to the Main Library, El Paso will never have that.  The argument that visitors may park in the Foster parking garage or at meters is specious, because public libraries are for everyone—rich, poor and everyone in between, and public libraries are not elitist institutions that provide parking only for those who can afford to pay for expensive parking in the Downtown Arts District.

A common formula for determining what is adequate customer parking for a public or commercial building is 5 parking spaces for every 1,000 sq. ft. of building area.   The Main Library is 100,006 square feet.  By this formula, adequate parking for Main Library would be 500 free or low-cost parking spaces.  At Main Library, there are no free parking spaces. 

Another reason the private parking facility that is located a block away from the Main Library and owned by Paul Foster does not make for a good option for Main Library is because Library users primarily conduct research at the Main Library of the El Paso Public Library system. Main Library users typically stay for hours at a time to research, study, browse the collection, select materials to check out, or attend programs or training that often lasts all day.  Main Library users are in the situation of having to pay for parking that can accrue to upwards of $8-10 per library visit, in order to use what should be a free or low-cost city service at the disposal of all El Pasoans, and not just the wealthy and entitled ones.

The parking fees at the Foster parking facility would accrue rapidly, especially for those who need to use the library every day or several days a week to complete their projects.   Perhaps Mr. Foster would consider donating or leasing the vacant ground level lot directly behind the library on Franklin Street for library patron parking only. That would be a viable option for solving the Main Library parking problem.  Gates could be installed that require a Library card to enter and exit.

But that discussion with Mr. Foster has not been held and would depend totally on his generosity and willingness to help Main Library and City of El Paso better serve the citizens of El Paso.

Another viable option would have been to convert the lot made available by the demolition of the Saddle Blanket building next to the Doubletree Hotel into free or low-cost Main Library parking, rather than using this space for apartments for artists at a reduced cost. The matter was discussed with City management by Library administration prior to a decision being made, but it fell on deaf ears.

A third, less desirable option would be to pay for parking spaces reserved for persons visiting the Main Library in either the Doubletree Hotel garage or the new Paul Foster parking structure near the Main Library between Oregon and El Paso Streets. 

El Paso Public Library staff were asked a few years ago to review the Street and Alley Loading Zones and Special Issues document being prepared by the city government and comment.  The most common comment regarding the plan from Library staff members was that Main Library should not lose street parking for the Bookmobile and the city vehicles assigned to the library, since they all need to be located in close proximity to the library building for loading and unloading of materials and equipment.

There were pertinent general comments made by Library staff regarding the abysmal parking situation at the Main Library during the writing of the report:

  • From a Regional Library Manager: “I have let patrons know about the services located at the Border Heritage Center and Periodicals Department, but when they hear that these services are located at the Main Library downtown, some say they will not visit because of the parking.  One mentioned they were afraid of getting a ticket and not wanting to go back because the time on the meter is too short.”
  • “One of the reasons patrons hesitate to visit the Main Library is due to lack of parking space.  Meters are a nuisance since patrons have to run out and feed the meter; also having to have the correct change makes it even more difficult.” Not everyone has a credit card.
  • “I can say that of all the library systems in which I’ve worked (this is number five for me), the Main Library has been the one with the most difficult parking situation I’ve encountered yet, for both staff and patrons.  Parking is especially tricky when big events occur at the Civic/Convention Center on Santa Fe Street (like the job fair, citizenship ceremonies, or the day Zig Ziglar gave a presentation there).”
  • “It would be great if the Main Library could offer free parking to employees, and to our patrons.  As an employee who is grateful to have parking at the Civic Center, the one thing that worries me is when I work until 8:00 p.m. and then must walk to the Civic Center in the dark.  I’m afraid I might fall and hurt myself and also a little concerned about getting assaulted (there are homeless people soliciting for money in the area).  I especially hate it in the Fall when we must move our clocks back because it gets darker sooner.  I think that we would get more patrons and they would stay longer if they didn’t have to rush because they only have a certain amount of time left on their meters. “

There has been a dramatic change in the mission of a growing number of libraries across the country.  No longer just static repositories of books and reference materials, libraries are increasingly serving as the hub of their communities, providing a broad range of services and activities.  They are also becoming important economic engines for downtown and neighborhood districts. 

Strong libraries, strong downtowns.

Quite simply, a town with an active, vibrant library is a town with a strong sense of community.  A library is a community hub that offers social as well as economic benefits to the city it serves.  To accomplish this level of service, there must be adequate parking for all at the central, flagship Main Library downtown that supports the other eleven libraries in the El Paso Public Library system.

Mark Pumphrey

Director of Libraries, Retired

El Paso Public Library