Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Friday, January 13, 2017

NYPL Announces Its Intention To Sell Inwood Library (Enlarged and renovated in 2001) For Redevelopment- Is This What Gets Called a “Robin Hood” Deal These Days?

Our Facebook post about Inwood Library sale and Manhattan Community Board 12
INWOOD LIBRARY FOR SALE?: IT WAS STANDING ROOM ONLY JANUARY 4th as the sale for redevelopment was announced.

This page will be updated.

This is a recent Facebook Post with some more recent information.

The Inwood community has posted a video (on January 29th) of neighborhood residents confronting library selling officials at the library about the sale.

Citizens Defending Libraries has a January 26, Facebook post with updating information about respecting confirmation that the local city councilman Ydanis Rodriguez decided to back the sale of the library before the public knew about it or even had a chance to give him any insight or feedback into what the community's own view of the subject might be.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer standing next to City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez in blue suit where he has come to even to promote the sale of the Inwood Library.  The man with the folded arms on Gale Brewer's other side is from de Blasio's HPD, also there to promote the sale of the Inwood Library.
Ditto on Gale Brewer dittoing library sales- same info as caption above.
Another crucial elected official disappointing library defenders at this point is Borough President Gale Brewer who showed up at the library alongside of City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez to indicate that she is generally supportive of the sale!

Now as Gale Brewer stands condoningly by, she, as borough president, has two Manhattan libraries suffering these such sales, the snuffing out of SIBL, the central destination Science, Industry, and Business Library at 34th Street (new for $100 million in 1996) with the total elimination of the Science portion of that library (in the science-annihilating age of Trump?) and the complete elimination of collection of science books!  SIBL is being sold for a suspiciously low amount.  Its sale is also connected to an overall library shrinkage affecting the Mid-Manhattan Library with a wholesale elimination of books.

The NYPL has now announced the Inwood Library in its sights for a disruptive sale for redevelopment.

Sale of the Inwood Library for redevelopment is being sprung on the community. The community members present at a January 4th Community Board committee meeting, just catching up with things, were pretty angry. The NYPL is aiming for quick low-on-the-radar pass of the plans by the community furnishing it with very constrained ability to comment- two Charrettes before the end of the month:
    Wednesday, January 25th (4:00-8:00pm), and

    Saturday, January 28th (10am-2:00pm)
which the NYPL will then reinterpret as blessing their plans (including, they indicated there may be a possible override to increase the zoning).

Interestingly, learning from the Sunset Park Library sale in Brooklyn, the NYPL and HPD are saying that they have already picked a partner to work with (board members include the Donnell-connected Starwood head, Goldman Sachs, the Related Companies), but, even so, that they will only officially award development to their development partner after a formal RFP.. .. ?

Sound good to you? . . . . Right!  (That’s sarcasm.)

The Inwood Library is a very nice, highly used, very functional, three story library that was expanded and renovated in 2001.* (January 4th the NYPL misleadingly stated that it hadn't been renovated for 30 years.) It is next to two large schools. These plans would take the library out of commission (Donnell, sold in 2007 took nine years and the NYPL still doesn’t expect to replace the teen center until 2020) and then make it unexpandable in the bottom of a privately-owned residential building.
(*  This information coming officially from the NYPL is inaccurate, according to a neighborhood resident communicating with us, who says that the last renovations of the Inwood library were even more recent than 2001.)

Interestingly, even though NYPL officials said that they were appearing before the community board members that night to make sure that the public knew about these rushed charrettes, there was only on small almost impossible to find announcement about the community board meeting in the library itself that did not state the purpose of the meeting and also did not tell people about the upcoming charrettes they are supposedly trying to publicize.
click to enlarge- Do you feel informed about the library sell off?  All the library patrons we spoke to about it were entirely surprised.
The only real coverage (and it was good coverage from our standpoint) was in DNAInfo:

    •    DNAInfo: Inwood Library to Be Sold to Developer for Affordable Housing, City Says,  By Carolina Pichardo, January 6, 2017 (Comments are possible)
Officials announced that the city is planning to sell the property to a developer who would build an apartment building, the height of which is not yet determined, in collaboration with the New York Public Library, HPD and anti-poverty nonprofit The Robin Hood Foundation.

* * * *

The surprise announcement angered many locals at the CB12 meeting who said they're frustrated that the city is moving forward with the plan so quickly, and that most pieces appear to already be in place before the public hearings.

"I'm wondering how constrained the whole concept of the workshop is going to be, whether you already have the idea that this is going to be affordable housing... you mentioned that you have a partner and I didn't hear anything about possible competitive bid or other possible partners," said Michael White, founder of Citizens Defend Libraries.

"Robin Hood sounds like a great name, and I'm sure you guys do a lot of good things, but I look at your board and I see Starwood, which was involved in the sell-off of the Donnell Library, I see Goldman [Sachs], which is involved in selling off libraries, and I see Related Companies, which get a lot of favors. I don't know that I would pick Robin Hood to slice-and-dice my library," White said. "If you're going to do just two sessions, it sounds like you already have an idea and you just want to do some rubber stamping."

The CEO of Starwood is a member of Robin Hood's board of directors, and the CEOs of Goldman Sachs and Related Companies are members of its advisory board, according to the nonprofit's website.

White, who has worked with communities in Sunset Park and Brooklyn Heights when they went through similar development projects with local libraries, said the project is basically "giving the library away to developers."

* * *

The current Inwood Library is one of the most heavily used locations in Manhattan and one of the few libraries open seven days a week, with enhanced services, programs and hours, officials said.

* * *

White accused the city of going "through the motions" to make it seem like they got input.

“Basically, they’re letting the public know ‘we’re selling the library and we want to know what you want after we sell it. It’s not ‘should we sell the library, or preserve plans to enlarge it in the future?” White said.

White said the city faced a lot of pushback from the community after it sold a Brooklyn Heights library to developer Hudson Companies for $52 million after critics accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of supporting the deal because of donations his campaign received from the development company.
We have a post up on Facebook and have Tweeted about the sale.  There is a Facebook discussion of the sale on another post by TAkeBackNYC.  BTW:  Interestingly, the "Robin Hood Foundation" gets mention in this week's New York Magazine cover story about the ascendancy to power or Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

There is the sort of quick non-coverage, mostly a press release pass along, that we’d regularly expect of such transactions by Curbed and the Real Deal, although Curbed mentions and connects this deal to the community’s recent rejection (its “fierce opposition”) of the upzoning of a neighboring site (but bot the Curbed and Real Deal articles do  mention the possible upzoning this could bring to the library site-  comments on both articles are possible):

    •    Curbed: City officials push affordable housing redevelopment for Inwood library- After recent rejection from City Council for a nearby site, the city explores its options, by Ameena Walker Jan 5, 2017

    •    Real Deal: In wake of failed Inwood rezoning, city returns with new affordable housing pitchDe Blasio administration wants to bring "100% affordable" apartments to the site of a library, by Will Parker, January 05, 2017.
Click to enlarge
Something of real estate interest likely going on here that Curbed and the Real Deal didn't mention and make explicit is that, after an import of FAR (and the site already has a playground running track included in it that will help it hit a high FAR), there could be a mayoral override of the current zoning, that would be a camel's nose under the tent in a neighborhood where the city has already been maneuvering for more increased zoning.  Adjacent to the library there is a succession of one-story buildings (with some recent transactions where they traded hands).  It is easy to import the FAR from all of those sites to the library to get a tower, or the existing properties there may themselves get sacrificed to redevelopment.

The Inwood community can learn from what's happened and gone on before.  As with Brooklyn Heights, the former Donnell, Sunset Park, anytime you sell off the library land and put a replacement library in the bottom of a privately-owned residential building you can never enlarge or expand it as the community grows afterward. . because it's a problem that the building is privately owned, and because it's a problem with the building being residential. - - - Closing this library, next to two large schools for `redevelopment' is inherently disruptive. Donnell started shutting down at the end of 2007. It's inadequate replacement didn't open until this summer 2016. The NYPL hopes to open the replacement for what was the newly renovated Donnell teen center in 2020. - - - When you turn libraries into real estate deals the priorities become those of the real estate industry, not the library patrons. ERGO: This plan to let the public comment on a done deal where the priorities have already been skewed.

One useful reference is this statement of principles that dates back to the proposal that the Sunset Park Library  be sold for 'redevelopment' and similarly turned into a multi-use project:  Proposed Statement of Principles Concerning Any Possible Redevelopment of Library-- Sunset Park Branch - .

If it really makes sense to tear down recently enlarged, renovated and very functional libraries for redevelopment, then what actually makes sense is to build the replacement library in a free standing enlargeable building first and then move it.  That way you avoid disruption, down time and bait and switch deals.

Politics?:  Gale Brewer as Manhattan Borough President has very key say-so over this Manhattan library along with SIBL, another Manhattan library she is letting go down the drainOn the immediate front line is Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez.  From talking to Russell Murphy (rmurphy2[at]council.nuc.gov), his representative at the hearing, it sounds like Councilman Rodriguez is already warmed up and predisposed to favor sacrificing the library for development.  A word to those with less experience in these matters: The NYPL and library officials don't generally proceed with the unveiling of library sell-off unless Mayor de Blasio, the NYPL and the rest of the powers that be already believe they have bagged and tagged the pertinent elected officials, particularly the local city councilman, and have them on board.  (For instance, the deal could even go back to when the last upzoning was slain by the community's opposition.)

One reason the Community Board 12 meeting was crowded was because local residents had sent an email to members of the Facebook Inwood Community Group (including):
Will we be losing our well loved and well used library? Because our community doesn't show up represent push back special interest. If they are willing to tear down our library, where will it end?

Will we let the city build questionable "affordable housing" on the Inwood Library site? I say NO not on my watch..... . . .

* * * **

"This is so unacceptable I can't put into the words . . .

. . .   it is urgent that as many Inwood residents who have time show up at this meeting in strong support of our library, and way of life...........

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