The following Op-ed, relating to the City Council's vote scheduled for Wednesday is available for reprint at no cost (or to write about and link to in your publication).
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Monday, December 14, 2015
Heights Library, Brooklyn's central destination library in Downtown
Brooklyn. Recently expanded and fully upgraded it is two-stories (about
38,000 square feet) above ground and two half-floors with books at the
ready underground |
Major things are happening in New York’s City Council with a vote of the full Council expected December
16th. . . .
. . . Last month Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson
testified that the sale and shrinkage of Brooklyn’s downtown central
destination library, the Brooklyn Heights Library, the second biggest
library in Brooklyn, was being looked at as a model for deals being
worked on by ALL THREE library systems in New York, the BPL, the NYPL
and now the Queens Library.
This sweet deal for a developer who will build a luxury tower tucking in a drastically shrunken “replacement”
library at the bottom, is far from a desirable model for the future of
our libraries. And, the proposed sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library
isn’t, actually, the original model for all this; the sale of the
Donnell Library, conceived at the same time and executed first is the
first prototype. The proposed sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library
nonetheless charts an unprecedented course in that this is the first time
the City Council must vote to approve such a transaction, a test of the council’s mettle.
The sudden, secretively arranged sale of Donnell was announced November
of 2007. The five-story 97,000 square foot library standing on 53rd
Street across from MoMA was sold at the height of the real estate bubble
to net the New York Public Library probably less than $25 million.
Between Fifth and Sixth avenues, Donnell was on what was documented to
be the most valuable block in Manhattan. The 7,381 square foot
penthouse in the 50-story luxury tower replacing it is on the market for
$60 million. Other apartments in the building are selling for more
than $20+ million.
We’ve just passed the 8th anniversary of Donnell’s sale announcement.
The priorities here?: Last March, the luxury condominium tower, luxury
hotel (for which Chinese investors paid a record-setting $130 million)
and luxury restaurants were open, but the planned “replacement”
for the library at the site, less than one-third size (28,000 square feet), mostly underground and largely bookless, is nowhere in sight
. It’s new perpetually postponed completion date is now stated by the NYPL to be “Summer 2016.”
. . . While you continue to wait you can dine in one of the luxury restaurants seated on chairs upholstered with coyote pelts.
The beloved Donnell was a central destination library, much of it
recently renovated with public money. It had a state-of-the-art media
center and a new teen center.
The Brooklyn Heights Library is similarly a central destination library
with a special focus on its Business, Career and Education division.
Its location in Downtown Brooklyn at a key transit hub where it’s the
most accessible library for a huge number of New Yorkers and
Brooklynites. Its full upgrade in 1993 means it’s one of Brooklyn’s
most up-to-date libraries and best in terms of computer support.
Even if the BPL proposed a full scale replacement library it would be a
problem, because, stuck at the bottom of a privately owned residential
building, the library could never thereafter be enlarged. This library
was substantially enlarged when it was fully upgraded in 1993
so surely it’s a mistake to shrink it now, an uncorrectable one at
that. This research library is one of the highest circulation libraries
in the system, in the center of a fast growing business district,
neighborhood, borough and city. Library use is up 40% programmatically
and 59% in terms of circulation, most of that being physical books. The
BPL plans to banish an untold number
of books, only the merest fraction to remain.
The existing library is 63,000 square feet. Its proposed “replacement”
was proposed to be a just over the 21,000 square feet specified in the developer’s contract. Pursuant to some backroom maneuvering
to push the library sale though announced just last Thursday* it's now
proposed to be a slightly larger shrunken library, 42% of the size of
the current one. The existing library is about 38,000 feet above ground
while its proposed “replacement”
would have only 15,000 square feet above ground.
(* That backroom deal,
with a lot of spending on the public's dime to push this deal through,
not the developer's makes a major non-transparent raid on the budget of
the Mayoral-controlled Department of Education.)
A second hugely awkward problem about considering a full-scale
replacement: Selling the library for so little the BPL likely loses
money. So far its it’s costing the NYPL $21 million and counting to
outfit the library that’s supposed to replace Donnell. If it had to
outfit a full-scale replacement it would have put the NYPL into an
Same thing with the proposed sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library. The library would cost $120+ million to replace
$60 million for the construction and, additionally, the land and the
public’s associated right to use it are worth more than another $60
But the BPL isn’t bothering to appraise the library’s current value to
the public saying that attention only need be paid to a far lower
figure, what a developer will pay for the “tear-down”
the library. It’s like saying the value of a heirloom watch is just the
puddle of gold it melts into. Interesting: The hearings have pretty
well documented that the developer (not
the high bidder), giving money to de Blasio, is not even paying that far lower “tear-down”
figure. The BPL says the sale will net the city $40 million but appears intent on exaggerating the number.
Libraries, emblematically, are democratic institutions offering
knowledge and opportunity to all. They also support our democracy by
providing an informed, educated electorate. Happy coincidence:
Libraries are good politics, because the public values its libraries,
wanting their proper funding to be a top priority.
Will the City Council vote to approve this as a city-wide model for a
retrenching program of future library sell-offs? That would be bad for
our democracy and very bad politics for the City Council.
# # # #
The author, Michael D. D. White, a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries,
is an attorney and urban planner who held a senior policy-level
position and, for more than twenty-five years, worked for the state
finance and development authorities.
For more about what has been written about the City Council's vote to
inaugurate approval and sale of public libraries with this proto-type
(including letetr of object written by the NYC Comptroller and Public
Thursday, December 10, 2015, Links
Respecting City Council land Use and Subcommittee Vote (and Steve Levin
community betrayal) Respecting Proposed Sale and Shrinkage of Brooklyn
Heights Library As Prototype For Future
Here is video about the decision where you can see:
1.) BPL President Linda Johnson saying that:
- This sale and shrinkage is a “model” for libraries throughout the city, not just future BPL transactions, but also for Queens and the NYPL
2.) NYPL president Tony Marx “Shushing” fellow library Johnson about saying that Lander is “very clever”
- Councilman Brad Lander (pushing for library sales and shrinkages like this one) is “very clever”
3.) Brad Lander saying about these library sale deals that developers “must make a profit.”
Will Steve Levin Save the Brooklyn Heights Library?