Brooklyn Libraries, Development and Misdirected Fear

Jul 12, 2015 · 42 comments
Mary Buchwald (Brooklyn)
Public libraries are the prime education resource for the communities they reside in. Libraries should not become pawns for generating needed capital for BPL. Our tax money is the source for generating needed capital to maintain and expand libraries. Mayor Bill de Blasio needs to enlarge the needed capital funds for the 207 branches in NYC.
Sunset Park needs a multi-story library, like the gracious and spacious Brooklyn Heights Library, that BPL denigrates for leveraging, that is, selling off purposes. Both libraries should remain stand alone libraries for future expansion. Possibly, with more floors added to house pre-K classes. Presently, both communities lack enough places for pre-K programs.
sh (Brooklyn)
It seems like the mantra of build build has no consequences. Has anyone thought about the consequences of such population density for transportation, fire, polices, water supply, etc.? One city councilman said the Bloomberg would never be one to stop a project. It was said that the environmental impact study was never realistic. How could they be when so much is changing simultaneously.
Phillis Gershator (Brooklyn)
As a former children's librarian with BPL, it distresses me to see its administration promoting the sale (some would say giveaway) of library assets, shrinking and diminishing the library for future generations. Isn't it the administration's responsibility to protect and preserve the library in order to serve the long term public interest? I fear that allowing transactions like the ones described here set precedents that will erode and even destroy other besieged public institutions as well, such as our Post Office, public schools, and National Parks.
Brunella (Brooklyn)
Books are meant for libraries. LIbrary books should not be warehoused elsewhere, it defeats the point of the library. Digital books can complement printed, but should not push out printed works, and I'm skeptical that administrations will desire to or consider scanning every single book contained within libraries, instead weeding out those deemed 'unworthy.'

Concerns about developer land grabs for air rights at the expense of public assets, including our libraries, are entirely valid. Just look at the effort required to get the stacks of the 42nd Street library saved. It's not as if real estate developers don't benefit from tax breaks and massive subsidies, right?
pkyc0 (LIC, NY)
i suspect the issue isn't the library, it's the presence of affordable housing. there are people who are afraid it will bring in the lower class or less desirable population to prestigious brooklyn heights. this is all just a misdirect
Marsha (nyc)
The affordable housing on this project is not in Brooklyn Heights it is in Clinton Hill
B. (Brooklyn)
That affordable housing de Blasio and the developers are promising isn't going to be located in the Heights anyway. It'll be much farther away. This is about getting rid of a solid, much-used library and putting up a tall tower for the well-to-do.

Not saying that the well-off don't foot a big chunk of our city budget or that I have anything against their doing so. But they too would no doubt appreciate a library.
People got the Power (RI, NY)
Actually, the housing @ the library site in BH is going to be condos - the affordable units will be built in Clinton Hill, which is adjacent to Bed-Stuy.

As far as objections to affordable housing @ Sunset Park, I doubt if anyone really objects as long as there are no strings attached. However, once an area is invaded by developers, watch out: Prices will go up even if "improved" by the presence of any new development, even if it includes affordable housing. I think the folks in Sunset Park do not want to suffer the fate of other gentrified Brooklyn nabes - and end up displaced. So they will fight any improvement, any new development - since it opens the door to the developers and higher prices inevitably.

BdB is not so different than BB with respect to housing, unfortunately. The developers are still in the diver's seat and the watchword is still to pay the developers to develop despite the fact that the r/e market in NY is booming. Why are payoffs going to the developers in the form of incentives? Is it maybe because developers are the biggest donors to pols' campaign chests? Do we see a little institutional/endemic corruption here or what?
Peter (LA)
“Here I am in front of this group saying, ‘Trust me, this is different, it won’t be business as usual.’ ”
Isn't this part of every fairy tale where someone makes a wish? They think they can outsmart the devil. But they can't. Their soul will always be forfeit.
The developers pay teams of very smart people millions of dollars to come up with documents which deceptively promise all sorts of things but allow them to yanked away as soon as possible. I totally understand the impulses of those who feel that even talking to developers, taking any kind of deal at all, is a chump's game - the developers will never make a deal that doesn't serve themselves completely and utterly and give as little as possible for as short a time as possible. And they use complexity as a business tool.
And I doubt library administrators "secretly wish she were a builder." But the developers are (yes, like the devil) seductive. And, like congresspeople, when the rich guy and his team of suits invites you out for golf or lunch, it makes you feel important and you want to help them. Google the Benjamin Franklin Effect.
The best thing is to have nothing to do with them. Yes, that means that libraries may have to find other kinds of benefactors.
Tom (NYC)
"arguably the global literary capital…"

Would big [email protected] please lay out that argument?
Ramon (Sunset Park)
Affordable Housing, The FAC originally said that the term affordable means that a medium income of all of the NYC residents and the more affluent upstate counties were calculated together and the magic number for “Affordable” was 80,000.00. After we complained about this subjective term called “Affordable”, the FAC changed the magic numbers to $40K then $20K. Then they added housing units for Homeless dash Domestic Violence Victims. I asked them out of curiosity how did they come up with this labeling for Homeless Dash Domestic Violence Victims. We were all informed that the FAC gets certain scoring points on the loans for this project by allocating/labeling certain units as Homeless Dash Domestic Violence Victims units. So, asked them What about Senior housing units? The answer from the FAC was that there were no monies available for senior housing. All of the senior housing monies were already used up. It should be noted that right next door to the Sunset Park Library a Domestic Violence shelter already exists. We need more “low income” senior housing.
lillybeth0 (ny, ny)
It is reprehensible playing domestic violence victims against senior citizens. The formulae used for determining what is "affordable" in housing, and who is qualified is broken, nefariously manipulated, and wholly corrupted. The system is gamed, and no one but the developers are really the winners.
Ramon (Sunset Park)
For additional reasons, I refer you to: The Stavros Niarchos Foundation ( which is one of the world’s leading private international philanthropic organizations, making grants in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and sports, and social welfare. Which recently held its second annual nominate your Library for a $20,000.oo grant. More than 13,000 nominations were posted throughout the city. As the nominations poured in, it quickly became apparent that our libraries are places for more than just books.
MISDIRECTED FEAR! Let me tell what misdirected fear is! At the last CB7 meeting the FAC and representatives of the Brooklyn Public Library made its presentation of this proposed project which they are presenting at a done deal. They do not have a site to house the temporary library while this project is being built. When asked if the temporary site would be bigger or smaller than the existing library. The answer was most probably it will be smaller. We don’t have enough room now and they want to shove us into a smaller location.
lillybeth0 (ny, ny)
The temporary location would be the private school St. Ann's, which is around the corner. They are estimated to reap easily $40m or more from this arrangement.
Jonathan (Manhattan)
People familiar with the experience with Donnell will not think the fears are misdirected.

To suggest that advocates of libraries must fundraise for them to be legitimate is absurd. It is a good argument for giving the 1% more influence than the rest of us. Libraries should be adequately funded by the public not dependent on private fundraising.
lillybeth0 (ny, ny)
The Times was one of the biggest champions of Donnell's sale, along with the now infamous and infamously disgraced CLP (Central Library Plan). The New York Times is well known for its biases. It is a business, after all. It was a heartbreak it did not renounce with extreme prejudice and apoplexy the foregone sale of Donnell, literally stolen from the public, literally, and rally around the controversy of how it occurred. Instead, NYT was a hubric lapdog. So, this article does not surprise me one single bit. Again, NYT showing its true colors. Consorting with the enemy of the people of the City of New York.
People got the Power (RI, NY)
If it hadn't been for the outcry from the scholars, the stacks area would be toast, sacrificed to the greed of the r/e scions sitting on the NYPL Board of directors, eager to kick business in the direction of their r/e buddies (self-dealing of the 1%) at the expense of the scholars who actually need to use the volumes, and have them on hand for immediate reference.

The Donnell fiasco was certainly an example of the perfidious NYPL Board selling off an asset to make money; however, the asset was worth much more than it sold for, thus, the entire transaction was yet another sweetheart deal - self-dealing of the r/e scions the 1% class on the NYPL Board with their friends in the developer community. Literally looting the library to line the pockets of their friends. The Times is certainly a mouthpiece of the 1% in that regard, touting the CLP, the starchitect Foster, and so forth - and kicking the Donnell to the curb with their faint-praise pieces about its design. The Times never attacked Ms. Quinn the lapdog of BB - who acceded to the sell-out of the Donnell, because for all its supposed liberalism, the Times is simply a tool of the 1%.

What public assets will be privatized next I wonder, with the blessing/justification of the Times, as in the public good eventually, as crumbs left over from the feasting of the rich. Will the parks be next? Or the public schools? Or the water system? The possibilities are endless..
David (Brooklyn)
Declaring the renovated Cadman Plaza branch "dilapidated" is absurd, and raises questions as to whether the writer is a reporter or, alternatively, a mouthpiece for the Brooklyn library administration and, by implication, the developers who stand to profit at the expense of the citizens of Brooklyn who own this valuable property and also use the library every day The gratuitous digs at Mayor Bloomberg are particularly odd - since the proposal that the author is advocating is precisely the sort of unjustified giveaway of a public asset that she contends the former Mayor uniquely advocated.
landless (Brooklyn, New York)
I live two blocks from the Cadman Plaza branch. The building's air conditioning does not work; the place is too stuffy and airless on even the best days. The reading rooms lack sufficient space for readers and computer users. An expanded library with housing is an excellent plan. Some people just want to be difficult.
B. (Brooklyn)
Landless, that library is not going to be expanded despite what the architect and developer and even the head librarian, a shill, say.

The new one will be smaller and in the basement. Many people use the current library and, frankly, love it and love what it stands for.

I don't mind more apartment buildings; their property taxes and their owners' income taxes pay for our social services.

But in the old days, rich men built libraries, they didn't destroy them.

Think Carnegie; Astor; Tilden; Lenox.
lillybeth0 (ny, ny)
The digs are against de Blasio. I think yours was but a typo. Otherwise your comment makes no sense.
Charles (New York, NY)
If only the librarians held the power! It is not they who are proposing to sacrifice libraries in real estate deals. It is the boards and directors of these institutions, which are sadly reflective of the general quality of leadership in our city, state, nation and world today, that are setting the direction.
Bruce (Brooklyn)
Create a Brooklyn Library Conservancy. Put some of the well-known residents in the writing and performance worlds at the head, along with some of the professionals, lawyer, doctors, bankers, and librarians, on its board. People with memories, intelligence, and competence. It saved the big parks when similar agencies were created. And watch the support for the system grow. And don't sell anything. Lease any property under consideration for improvement to a development non-profit and management, reviewable renewal options every decade or so.
lillybeth0 (ny, ny)
Operative words here: Don't sell anything.
This is a fecund idea. Put this person on the new Conservancy's board.
Zejee (New York)
But you don't understand; some people who are very rich want the building. That's all. They want it, they shall have it. The rich always get what they want. Who are we? People? Nobodies.
twocents (New York)
to sell public assets for real estate developers - never, never, never a good idea. the city is being encroached by these empty high rises who benefit little. while our public spaces (form buildings to parks and gardens) just disappear. once public land is sold, it is sold forever. we've seen what happened to the Donnell Library in Midtown (almost 7 years later and no library) - and where are the public housing?
this is extremely short-sighted ad misguided. please say NO! to this.
People got the Power (RI, NY)
Not just that - the "new" Donnell is going to be a "vest-pocket" branch, nowhere near the size of the "original" Donnell. The deal went against the deeding of the land by the Rockefeller family and the bequest by Donnell - the NYPL knew it could not really sell the Donnell land without violating the terms of the land transfer by the Rockefellers to the NYPL, and so it had to get the developer to agree to a tiny replacement branch in the basement of what is going to be one of the most obscenely expensive hotels in NYC, the Baccarat.

Imagine the symbolism: The ordinary folks are banished to the basement while the rich only get to enjoy sunlight on West 53rd Street! This is thanks to the wheeling and dealing of the corrupt cronies on the NYPL Board and BB, together with his lapdog the phony Christine Quinn. There were zero hearings prior to the sale, which was announced as a fait accompli after it was executed - the NYPL explaining it can sell what it wants since it's a private non-profit? Really? If that's so, why bother having libraries or public schools - why let the poor become educated?

The pols all conveniently "fled" the Donnell debacle - even BdB, Public Advocate at the time, didn't lift a finger to do anything. Instead, they just acceded to the corrupt power of the r/e and finance characters on the NYPL Board, who figure, as long as they're associated with a "worthy" philanthropy like the NYPL, I can get away with looting its assets occasionally... LOL.
Michael D. D. White (Brooklyn Heights)
While what I said about not being "against digital books," and the problem that, "if you switch over to digital books and keep books off-site, the library is no longer a zone of privacy," is accurate, it’s a truncated version of the overall issues I raised about switching away from the traditional prevision of physical books in our libraries.

Yes, as recently covered by a WNYC "On The Media" segment and National Notice article, digital books and keeping physical books off site does mean libraries cease to provide a predictable zone of privacy, but in saying that we are NOT against digital books I cited librarian John Palfrey's new "BiblioTech" book as calling for digital PLUS physical books (requiring more, not less, room). I also noted that people tend to prefer physical books (probably in part because they learn better with them- as covered on the front page of the Times as that pertains to children). Despite the push of the BPL and NYPL toward digital books, circulation is way up with almost all of that circulation being physical books. I further cited the just-out Washington Post article about how much more expensive digital books are and how, with a push to digital rental models and increasingly consolidated content control, digital books may mean that content ultimately just vanishes from the libraries when it is not paid for in the future. . . .
Dan (Pittsburgh)
In many other cities this would be considered a good problem
marilyn berkon (brooklyn, ny)
It's clear that the writer has never visited the Brooklyn Heights Library. The library is not dilapidated. Linda Johnson, president of the BPL, who wants an excuse for its sale, repeats the word so often that others pick it up as if the description is fact. The library is a strong, solid building designed by the famous architect, Francis Keally, who was also the architect for The Grand Army Plaza library. It was enlarged in 1993 and completely updated for modern technology, renovated with new HVAC and boilers. Additional technology would be easy and inexpensive. The space available to the public on the upper floors is more than double what would be in the new library. And its below-level storage for precious books and documents is available to anyone on request. These will no longer be there in the new library and possibly destroyed. We will have a library one third the present size, what can be called a state-of-the-art check-out counter. There will be very few books for browsing, for the excitement of discovery. If the library got appropriate funding we could fix the HVAC. Who tears down his house when the air-conditioning needs repair? This deal is all for the private developer and nothing for the public. And we will not get $40 million to repair any other libraries. Linda Johnson has conveniently forgotten to subtract all the other expenses involved in this outrageous plan. Nor does anyone understand that the affordable housing from it is not actually affordable.
B. (Brooklyn)
Beautiful, Marilyn. Thank you.
c. (n.y.c.)
Mr. Bloomberg sold the city down the river to his billionaire cronies. Nice to hear that someone is at least making token efforts to keep the city livable, and I welcome more developments like this.
Brother Wayne (Brooklyn)
The problem with the analysis put forth in this article is that it assumes that there is no alternative to cannibalizing public assets. If the people and corporations who have benefitted from the upward redistribution of wealth over the last 40 years were taxed at an appropriate level (i.e., more), we could have more affordable housing in this city, and adequate public services, without stripping assets from the public library system, or NYCHA, or other public entities.
in disbelief (Manhattan)
The plan to sell the Brooklyn Heights Library is completely unacceptable and outrageous. I hope the mayor will not change his original position on this critical matter. Why can't our government, in a borough that has seen real estate values explode, fix the AC system in a central library? It should have been done last summer! The City cannot provide a few millions to fix a vital public building? If this elitist plan goes ahead we should insist that the ultra luxury condo to be built on top of our present library be called The Equity Luxury Tower, and the proposed gym for the ultra expensive and exclusive private school, also to replace our library, be called The Equality Private Gym.
NYCfellow (NYC)
This is really unacceptable. The city is still operating under the speculative development trajectory set by Mr Bloomberg. His administration set into motion a shrinking, selling off & gutting of libraries in the city's three systems, as well as in its public middle and senior high schools. Real estate prices are rising vertically, e.g. the sales prices 1 bedroom coops leapt 50% in Manhattan's West End Avenue corridor in the 1st quarter of this year; 1 bedroom apartments are renting for $3000 in Port Morris and Mott Haven, historically working class South Bronx neighborhoods. Public property is looked upon as tradable assets for which the city makes bad trades, e.g. Manhattan's Donnell Library Center. The public has more than good cause for concern when those determining and guiding the city's physical development have been through the revolving door of high end real estate. We now know, because the Times has helped document the frenzy and jaw dropping give aways along Manhattan's 57th St corridor. Mr Bloomberg has been quoted as saying the planet's most fortunate are "entitled" to having homes here regardless of whether they use them. Fine. We should not paying for that (through displacement by bizarre comparable values) nor should those directly impacted by the seemingly cavalier Brooklyn Heights Association acquiescence to the Heights/Business Library shrinkage just roll over and accept those who assume to be their betters.
Marsha (nyc)
The plan for the Brooklyn Heights Library is a land grab supported by the real estate community and the elitist Brooklyn Heights Association,Libraries need to be properly funded . They are not can cows for the likes of Hudson Companies which stands to make over 500 million from this deal. St. Ann's an elite private school may reap 40M for air rights that have little value unless this is a done deal. Libraries are truly democratic institutions. I urge you to walk into the 280 Cadman Plaza Branch and see who the consumers are.
Kate (NYC)
Historic buildings like the Main Library or the Main Post Office are more than just a library or post office - they have additional purpose as examples of civic pride and cultural history.

Destroying classic civic buildings, replacing them with high-rises (typically luxury residential or office) and inserting the civic space in the bottom like an afterthought or grudging concession - in this case a library - is just a sad reminder that the only thing that counts in NYC these days is the Real Estate industry, that the Real Estate industry controls NYC. Even what seem to be worthy cultural or social projects are not, for example the High Line which turned out to be a Trojan Horse, allowing the Real Estate industry to rapidly transform Chelsea into an area for the super wealthy.

It is depressing seeing civic buildings like libraries and schools squeezed into the bottom of office buildings (like Norman Thomas High School) or luxury residential buildings (like the Riverside branch library). And in my opinion sends a message of disrespect for civic institutions.

And it is additionally hard not to be cynical about the intentions in Brooklyn given the examples of the Queens Library which was plundered by its Bloomberg-appointed chief executive Thomas Galante or the NYPL board that has seemed mostly to exist to serve the insatiable interests of big Real Estate and banking, and not serving the people of NYC or the preservation or advancement of knowledge.
Marsha (nyc)
The fact is that the Brooklyn Public Library has a dismal record of fundraising. Linda Johnson did well in he native Philadelphia raising funds but, she struck our here and then decided to go into the real-estate business. She is a good real-estate salesperson who projects outsized gains. THe monies this proposed project would generate cannot be assured to go to libraries and will go into the NYC general fund . There is no einforcement mechanism here. Watch the funds disappear.
lillybeth0 (ny, ny)
I agree with the sentiment of your comment, but need to correct one factually incorrect assertion. Galante was not appointed by real estate greedy Bloomberg. He began his tenure in 1987, on the stipulation that he receive his MLS, a degree that is a rarity for library Presidents/CEOs.
DDC (Brooklyn)
I agree with your overall point, but the larger issue is should public libraries have to hold their hand out begging for money (aka, "fundraising")? The money to run libraries should come from our taxes (of which us, "everyday Americans," pay a higher percentage than billionaires). There would be plenty of tax money if those who were wealthier were taxed at the same rate as those who earn lower incomes (or if those who purchase $100M condos don't get special/lower tax deals specifically for their real estate purchases).
Michael D. D. White (Brooklyn Heights)
Here are photos of the entire library.

If the library is "dilapidated" then I believe most of our houses of worship and probably schools are just as "dilapidated".

In A Closed Library, A Tour of Much The Public Doesn’t Get To See- Don’t Let Them Close This Library, The Brooklyn Heights Library On Cadman Plaza West, Corner of Tillary & Clinton
Michael D. D. White (Brooklyn Heights)
I do not consider the existing library dilapidated. Substantially enlarged and completely upgraded in 1993 it is actually five years newer than the adjacent Forest City Ratner One Pierpont Plaza, Morgan Stanley building in which Hillary Clinton has located her national campaign headquarters.

Replacing the existing building would, by the BPL's own figures, cost $60 million. To replace both building and the land with the associated rights to expand public use there would cost about $120 million or more. The building is being sold to net far less than that. Possibly, in the final analysis, the cash amount could br less than zero when the math is done.
See also