West Palm Beach downtown library gets major donation, new name

Will now be called The Mandel Public Library

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A Palm Beach couple's foundation is donating $5 million to help transform the city's 3-year-old, downtown library into a community hub.

The Mandel Foundation, chaired by auto supply magnate Morton Mandel, 90, made the grant official on Tuesday morning. He and his wife Barbara, 86, Palm Beachers since 1960, were on hand for a ceremony at what is now called The Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach.

The city commission, at its regular meeting Tuesday afternoon, formally voted to accept the gift and rename the library.

The Foundation, based in Cleveland, has donated millions of dollars around the country to fund higher education and urban neighborhood renewal. The foundation also recently donated $5 million to the new Jewish Community Center in Palm Beach Gardens.

The couple credited former Mayor Lois Frankel for recruiting them shortly after she left office last year. The $154 million city hall-library project at Dixie Highway and Clematis Street was a priority for Frankel, now a candidate for Congress. Though the project bogged down in controversy over costs, politics and a lawsuit, the library was a hit with residents from the day it opened, drawing much bigger crowds than the one it replaced several blocks away, near the waterfront.

"We sort of have been ready to do something in West Palm Beach as a donor," Morton Mandel said. "We have a lot of money and we want to put it to good use. We set a high bar, we saw this as a good idea, and when we came over to see the library, we were literally blown away."

Mandel and two of his brothers bought their uncle's failing automotive supply company in Cleveland in 1940 for $900. They sold the business, Premier Industrial Corp., in 1996, for $2.8 billion.

The grant goes to the West Palm Beach Library Foundation. The library foundation announced last year that it would seek donors at all levels for naming rights, including a $4 million price to name the entire library. The Mandels wanted to give an additional $1 million.

"The family has been extremely generous and supportive, and we're very grateful to them," said Jim Sugarman, executive director of the library foundation.

Sugarman said the Mandel Foundation will pay $4 million over four years toward growing the library foundation, with the interest going toward the library itself, for programming and other needs. The additional $1 million will also be spread out over four years, with much of that money going toward library programming.

While the library's annual budget is $3.7 million, librarian Chris Murray said the budget for community programs and other events is only $18,000 a year. Now, with at least $125,000 a year coming in for programming, the library can become more of a hub for activity, officials said.

"We will be able to pay people for programing, where before we'd have to find people for little or no money," Murray said. As for details, Murray said he has ideas for programs but he wanted to first share them with the library foundation to win its approval.

Sandy Myers, the library foundation's chairman, said some of the money could also go toward books or other library needs. "We think outside the box," Myers said. "We're not a substitute, we're a supplement, and we'll put together some ideas that are really going to benefit the entire community."

Sugarman said the library foundation has received an additional $155,000 in donations and pledges from people in the community, as well as numerous $2,000 donations.

Mayor Jeri Muoio, holding back tears the ceremony Tuesday morning, told the Mandels: "Your wonderful gift is going to make a big difference in the lives of children throughout this community and adults as well. This is a wonderful library and we're so proud of it."

Mandel Public Library

-- The grant: $5 million over four years

-- The donor: The Mandel Foundation

-- Notable gifts: Mandel Center for the Humanities at Brandeis University, $22.5 million; Mandel Center for Jewish Education at Brandeis University, (N/A); Mandel School for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, $18 million; Mandel Jewish Community Center in Palm Beach Gardens, $5 million.

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