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State-of-the-art main library, trade showcase vie for vacant building

Six months after the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center was shuttered, city officials are weighing two vastly different proposals to breathe new life into it. Desperate to bring the Oakland Public Library system into the 21st century, officials say they want to turn the center's arena — which once featured concerts, basketball games and graduations — into a state-of-the-art main library and replace the aging current one.
But as the Oakland City Council weighs whether to ask voters to approve a bond measure to fund the ambitious library plan, a competing proposal has emerged. It promises to turn the arena into a showcase for importers and exporters in an effort to thrust Oakland to the forefront of international trade, especially with China.

The library's plan would preserve the Calvin Simmons Theater and two ballrooms but demolish seating in the arena and build four or five floors into the historic structure around a central atrium lit by a new skylight and restored windows.

In addition, the new library would feature dozens of computers, a cafe and a separate teen zone for high school students, according to the library's plans.

Library Director Carmen Martinez said the city is behind the times when it comes to providing services for all of its residents, especially children.

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