As Vote Approaches, Critics of Brooklyn Library Sale Abound

Update: On July 7, Supreme Court Justice Dawn Jiminez-Salta ruled against Love Brooklyn Libraries, Inc.'s challenge to the Brooklyn Heights Branch sale and development. The project will proceed as planned. The controversial sale of Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) Brooklyn Heights branch to a New York real estate development group remains up in the air. The latest speed bump in the library’s sale, which was proposed by BPL, is a report suggesting the library system is getting a raw deal on the real estate, which is situated in one of the borough’s poshest neighborhoods.
Update: On July 7, Supreme Court Justice Dawn Jiminez-Salta ruled against Love Brooklyn Libraries, Inc.'s challenge to the Brooklyn Heights Branch sale and development. The project will proceed as planned.
Brooklyn Heights Branch renderingThe controversial sale of Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) Brooklyn Heights branch to a New York real estate development group remains up in the air. The latest speed bump in the library’s sale, which was proposed by BPL, is a report suggesting the library system is getting a raw deal on the real estate, which is situated in one of the borough’s poshest neighborhoods. An initial plan to sell the property to development concern Hudson Companies, Inc. was approved by the local community board in July, in spite of vociferous opposition from some neighbors that resulted in a series of contentious community meetings. That plan hit its first major snag when it came before Borough President Eric Adams in August. At a meeting on August 18, Adams criticized the plan on the grounds that it wouldn’t do enough public good to justify selling off the property. “It is appropriate for the City to pursue opportunities that utilize our municipal air right assets,” Adams said in a statement. “But any such utilization must maximize community benefit above and beyond what has been the standard to date.” According to some critics, the proposed $65 million price tag for the sale of the land is an unfair deal for BPL. A report issued by consulting group Hugh F. Kelly Real Estate Economics put the cost to developers at $211 per buildable square foot, or nearly a third less than developers paid per square foot on land sales in a two-mile radius of the branch between 2013 and 2014. The report was commissioned by Build Up NYC, a labor organization opposed to the project, which will not be required to employ union contractors. Representatives of the library system, though, say the price is a fair one, determined by market forces in one of the most heated real estate markets on the planet. "We know that this proposal represents true market value because it was the result of one of the most competitive bidding processes ever run by the city, beating out 13 other bids,” a BPL spokesperson told LJ. “We are getting a brand new, state-of-the-art library for Brooklyn Heights, $52 million for repairs at libraries across Brooklyn, and 114 units of affordable housing."

ADDITIONAL CONCERNS

The sale price, though, isn’t the only problem for critics. Borough President Adams called for the site to host affordable housing units in the Brooklyn Heights development itself. That’s not part of the current plan, which would let those units be developed in the less-pricey (and not adjacent) Clinton Hill neighborhood. Adams also argued that more of the units in the proposed development needed to be two- and three- bedroom units suitable for families, rather than studios. (Nearly half, 55 of the planned 114 units of affordable housing, are intended to be studios, compared with 22 two-bedrooms and only five three-bedrooms). Finally, the Borough President recommended that any redevelopment plan not only accommodate a new library branch, but space for elementary school classrooms as well. Other critics are concerned that the replacement library space will be long in coming, or even that developers may back out on the agreement. In testimony before the City Council subcommittee considering the sale, the organization Citizens Defending Libraries reminded council members of the debacle surrounding New York Public Library’s Donnell Library, which was sold to developers in 2008 for $59 million with a similar agreement—that a smaller library would be built in the updated space across the street from the Museum of Modern Art. That deal has yet to be honored after the property changed hands multiple times following the financial crisis of the late aughts, though the much-delayed new branch is scheduled to open sometime in 2016. “Last March the luxury hotel, the luxury condominium building, the luxury restaurants replacing the Donnell Library all opened, but the promised shrunken (less than one-third size) ‘replacement’ Donnell library is nowhere in sight,” Citizens Defending Libraries wrote in testimony presented to the subcommittee. Years after that sale, NYPL president and CEO Anthony Marx said that the lesson of the Donnell was a costly one the system learned the hard way. "The primary lesson going forward is that we should avoid, if at all possible, closing any branch, let alone a much-used branch," Mr. Marx told The Wall Street Journal in 2013. The proposed sale, which also has the blessing of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, is scheduled to go before the full New York City Council for a vote on December 10. Of particular note in that contest is the vote of Council Member Steve Levin, who represents the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood where the library is located. Levin’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


RitaSue Siegel

Whomever was the last entity to buy the Donnell Property had an agreement with the library that they would forfeit monies if they did not have the promised branch library open by a certain date. That date came and went and no one pursued the return of any money. It is likely that the Donnell name will disappear because the only identifier is West 53 Street Library. What I have learned from watching this event from the day the original sale was made to the original buyers was that the people in the neighborhood are not and will never be consulted. Not even the architect of the library considered asking residents of the neighborhood what they were looking for in a library.

Posted : Dec 10, 2015 05:15


RELATED 

TOP STORIES

LIBRARY EDUCATION

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

COMMUNITY FORM

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.