Plan to move Salem library to church-owned property stirs discrimination concerns

The former home of the Capital Press, at 1400 Broadway St. S.E. The building is now owned by Salem Alliance Church and could soon be the temporary home of Salem Public Library. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reproter)

After months of searching, the city of Salem may have found a temporary home for the Salem Public Library, but the prospective landlord is unsettling some.

City staff will recommend the library take over 1400 Broadway St. S.E., city officials confirm. The building once housed the Capital Press. The agriculture-focused newspaper recently moved and its owners sold the building in March to Salem Alliance Church.

It’s a building that checks all the boxes, city officials said, to move the library for two years while its original building gets seismic upgrades. And deadlines are fast approaching.

“With construction of the upgrades scheduled for January 2020, the deadline to pick a location is essentially now,” said Kenny Larson, city spokesman.


But rumors that Salem Alliance Church discriminates against the LGBTQ community led a citizen advisory group to say last week it is “deeply concerned” many will spurn the library if it moves to the Broadway site.

“Locating the library at the proposed site will result in a library that some members of the community, not only the LGBTQ, will not be willing to visit, and will negatively impact the library’s mission,” wrote the Salem Human Rights Commission.

The statement, dated July 2, asked the city to find another home “even if that location is not as ideal in cost or operations.”

The commission is tasked by Salem city code to spotlight discrimination in the community.

Danielle Meyer, the commission’s chair, said the claims against Salem Alliance Church hadn’t been substantiated and that the city of Salem has received no formal discrimination complaints about it.

Nonetheless, she said the public backlash could be real.

“There are many in the community that are going to perceive this as not caring about the needs of the LGBTQ community,” Meyer said. “We decided to make a statement reflecting that. We see the concern there.”

One claim about the church says it refuses to hire LGBTQ people to work at its café, Broadway Coffeehouse, across the street from the empty Capital Press building.

Executive Pastor Robb Childs said the church has no discriminatory practices.

“Salem Alliance’s campus buildings and public businesses do not have any current or former policies that discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community,” he said.

Salem Alliance Church is located at 555 Gaines St., roughly a block away from the Capital Press building. It also owns a cluster of buildings nearby, along Broadway Street, where it leases to businesses or houses its own.

When asked about the city commission’s concerns, Childs said that may stem from the church’s belief that marriage is reserved for a man and a woman, and sex is reserved for marriage. Childs disputed that the belief could be considered anti-LBGTQ.

“While we hold and teach this belief to our church family, we have not sought to force our beliefs and values on anyone outside of our church family,” he said in an email. “Contrary to what may be said on social media, Salem Alliance does not hate members of the LGBTQ community. We love the people of our city, including those who have different values and beliefs than we do.”

Salem Human Rights Commission supports freedom of religion, it said in its statement, but the public funds change the equation.

“It is offensive to some members of the Salem community for the city to enter into a contract with, and pay money to, an entity that may be experienced as unwelcoming to members of the LGBTQ community,” the statement said.

City officials say they don’t have a lot of options.

City staff and a subcommittee have for months discussed how to relocate the entire Salem Public Library after the passage of a 2017 bond to give nearly $19 million to retrofit its location at 585 Liberty Street S.E.

Larson said city employees considered at least 16 locations around Salem and weighed them by four criteria: the cost to lease and repair the building, its fit with library needs, its fit with community needs and how accessible it is.

He said other properties fell out of the running for a number of reasons, like the space was leased, or too expensive, or would require too much repair work before the library could move in.

Larson added that there is a budget to consider. The city has set aside $957,000 for the relocation and he said staff is hopeful to save that money and reinvest any savings back into the library.

“The Capital Press checked all the boxes for the (criteria) and is essentially move-in ready, which will save money on (building repairs) and keep us within the relocation budget,” he said.

Salem City Councilor Chris Hoy, who serves on the Library Renovation Council Subcommittee, echoed that there were no other properties available.

“There’s not a number of big, vacant buildings in Salem that were available,” he said. “The city has staff dedicated to real estate acquisition, and they know the real estate market and they worked hard. I feel good they vetted the marketplace.”

Hoy said he didn’t know much about Salem Alliance Church but said he knew there would be concerns. He said he shared those concerns and pushed for the Salem Human Rights Commission to have a voice.

Hoy said he also hoped to land the library in east Salem, but none of the locations were available or fit the criteria. His “fundamental concern” is ensuring the library finds a home now to stay open.

“We have to have a library. We can’t go two years without having a library,” he said. “The library is vital to our community.”

Daniel Rollings, president of the Salem chapter of PFLAG, a national organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights, said the plan is still tantamount to partnering with a hate group.

“I am completely opposed to the city partnering with any organization, regardless of what it is, that actively discriminates against anyone,” he said. “The city should not put out bids to work with the (Ku Klux Klan) nor should they work with anti-LGBTQ organizations that actively discriminate against the LGBTQ community.”

Rollings is a member of the Salem Human Rights Commission but said he was not speaking on its behalf.

Salem City Council will ultimately decide whether to sign the lease. Larson said the lease could go before council July 22.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, [email protected] or @TroyWB.