Homestead City Manager George Gretsas explained the next phase of downtown development at a Homestead Rotary Club presentation on Wednesday October 12.
The newest project is called a “Cyber-Library”, a technology-driven, educational, entertainment complex. The “Cy-brary” re-imagines a library expanded for new ways of learning with the capacity for future needs.
Introduced by Mayor Jeff Porter at the meeting, Gretsas reviewed the City’s current projects – the Seminole Theatre renovation, a new City Hall, and a new Police Station all completed on time and on budget – the Police Station to open in February.
A major entertainment complex with a 1,000 space parking garage, county transportation terminal, retail space, bowling, 10 screen cinema, and restaurants is under contract with a private developer.
“The next project is the Library,” said Gretsas. “Traditionally, libraries are downtown and are big draws. The Homestead library has been around for forty years and not much is happening. Is it time to reinvent the idea of a library?”
His thinking for a next generation library was to go beyond librarians. He sent out emails to groups who design theme parks, asking them to consider a small project drawing people to a re-imagined library space for education and entertainment.
“Of 14,000 municipal governments, only one reached out and that was Homestead,” Gretsas said.
The responding company’s management left Disney to seek more innovative ventures and did successful projects for Universal Studios and The Venetian in Las Vegas. Since they don’t do small projects, the City brokered a deal where the City owns the intellectual property to their concept with the rights to license it for other facilities.
The site selected for a new library is the two-story, 30,000 square foot building with a portico facing Mowry Street at the end of Washington Avenue.
Plans include a central internal pod, visually embracing private niches on both levels for different functions and for individual experiences. Initial plans also call for a two story robot on the front plaza announcing something completely different inside.
“There are even plans for a coffee shop café in the middle of the building,” said Gretsas.
The design company worked with concepts of augmented reality and virtual reality to free the imagination in the Cy-brary.
“Augmented reality is where you look at a real space and through technology you add digital images or information to it,” Gretsas said. “Virtual reality gives you a completely computer generated space.”
The design company exists to create revenue streams, he explained, so they “game-ify” the experience, adding creative laboratories, and cozy places to inspire imaginations. They remade the role of librarian so the position is more participatory and part of a cast, he added.
The City Manager shared a video concept of customers using random menus to learn about the world in exciting ways, both educational and fun. Action holograms can be saved and later added to different stories, such as dinosaurs, zombies, or digital animals. Special goggles allow people to soar to the stars or hunt rare corals underwater, for example.
As a practical matter, Homestead has a unique agreement with the county library system. It allows the City to reclaim the current Library land and building that it owns. (This provides a very marketable twenty-three acres site for Homestead on the corner of Campbell Drive and US1.) The City can then offer the Library space elsewhere in town. The system’s acceptance would have to be negotiated.
In answer to questions, Gretsas explained that there still would be books to loan, periodicals to read, computers to use, and electronic games and books to borrow at the Cy-brary. But the expanded experience would offer much more.
Additional membership fees probably would be necessary to justify virtual reality equipment and the games that keep people coming back for a family experience. There are further details to consider such as visitors from outside Homestead and whether a two-story robot in front fits the concept of the historic downtown.
The Mexican-American Council’s Mariachi Academy had been offered space in the new facility. The details of that agreement must also be considered.
City staff expects to make a future presentation to Council on the costs and sources of funding for the project.
Gretsas gave the mission of a Cy-brary project –
“The future library is called a university for the mind, a hospital for the soul and a theme park for the imagination,” he concluded.