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.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Voice of an Inwood Library Defender- Jeffrey Wollock Provides an Overview: Libraries as Real Estate -How NYC's Libraries are Being Stolen

An overview of the sale of the Inwood Library for redevelopment, linked to the radical and destructive rezoning of upper-Manhattan's Inwood, linked to the plan to sell NYC libraries in service to the goals of the real estate industry generally- Jeffrey Wollock provides perspective. 
We present here a very good article and exceedingly valuable piece of research by Jeffrey Wollock a library defender who is part of Save Inwood Library fighting the sale of the Inwood Library for redevelopment as a multi-use real estate development.  This sacrifice of the library is linked to and being done in close conjunction with a radical rezoning of the Inwood neighborhood that will shred the fabric of the  community and assuredly result in waves of displacement that remove current residents and businesses.

Some of the overall story from this Save Inwood Library defender will be familiar to other library defenders following the battles against New York City library sales and shrinkages that benefit real estate developers, not the public (and some of the citations in Mr. Wollock's writing point back to Citizens Defending Libraries work and posts), but the new perspective is a fresh overview that will generate new insights.  Thorough research by Mr. Wollock has also come up with a lot that is new, including some eye-poppers.
•    Who Is selling NYC Libraries?- Adding New Names To The Rogues Gallery: Mr. Wollock with his research and his sharp eye for relationships has come up with names linked to the selling off of and commodification of NYC’s public libraries that we have not previously posted anything about at Citizens Defending Libraries.

•    Another Blackstone Mark Respecting NYC Library Sales: Many are familiar with the fact that the 42nd Street Central Reference Library has awkwardly been renamed after Stephen A. Schwarzman, the head of the Blackstone Group (and the highest paid CEO in the country- the first $1 billion CEO).  Schwarzman, along with others in the hedge fund industry, pays an exceptionally low rate in taxes due to the carried-interest tax loophole, from which he personally benefits, and he opposed that loophole's repeal saying repeal would be akin to the German invasion of Poland. When asked whether his taxes should be raised given the state of the economy, Mr. Schwarzman said, to the contrary, the poor are the ones needing to pay more in taxes.  And Mr. Schwarzman has been leading the Trump administration’s initiative to privatize America’s public infrastructure. Mr. Schwarzman is a trustee of the NYPL.  What?  Of course!  What could be more natural. . .  The library was renamed after this living individual (something of a no-no) after Schwarzman transferred $100 million to the NYPL based on his understanding that a consolidating shrinkage of the Central Library Plan was to proceed.  That plan involved selling off major central destination libraries in Manhattan.– 

Without Mr. Wollock’s research published here it would likely have gone unnoticed that, as the Inwood Library is now one more NYPL library being sold as part and parcel of the rezoning of Inwood, a Blackstone Portfolio Company, purchased a major interest in a portfolio of 12 multi-family buildings in the vicinity, both in Inwood and adjoining Washington Heights, an ownership that will likely profit from these City/NYPL plans.  Blackstone was also investing in buildings around neighboring Bryant Park when it was expected that the NYPL would sell the Mid-Manhattan library there as a result of the transfer of funds from Mr. Schwarzman that got the 42nd Street Library named after him.  The fact that Blackstone was actually buying up that real estate makes less comically playful the remarks of NYPL president Tony Marx back then on February 1, 2013.   Talking about the Central Library Plan Before the Association For a Better New York Mr. Marx said, “little hint,” it would be a good idea to buy up such real estate in the area (and “I think I can say that as long as I don’t actually do it.”)  Lastly, it is worth mentioning that, just before the NYPL sold the Donnell Library, its first major sale of a library to benefit the real estate industry, before that sale was even publicly known about, there were rumors that Schwarzman’s Blackstone would be involved in the sale, but it is impossible to say exactly what actually then happened behind the scenes.

•    The Political Family That Sells Libraries Together. . . Does What Together?: Mr. Wollock observed, when nobody else had, that Jessica Schumer, daughter of Iris Weinshall and Senator Chuck Schumer was Chief of Staff (September 2015 to May 2016) at Robin Hood, “Wall Street's favorite charity,” the very same foundation, that, in addition to involvement in charter school initiatives, was spearheading the sale of the Inwood Library.  That means that when, on May 11, 2016, Chief Operating Officer Ms. Weinshall told the NYPL trustees as at a trustees meeting “that a major foundation” had “approached” the NYPL about “an interesting initiative” to sell the library, she was talking about a major foundation that her own daughter, Jessica, was contemporaneously heading up as Chief of Staff. But Ms. Weinshall did not say that in the meeting when telling the trustees.  So, if you take into account the connection that Stephen A. Schwarzman and his Blackstone Group make major contributions to Senator Schumer (so that Schumer in 2014 was the #1 Blackstone-supported politician in New York State and the #4 Blackstone supported politician nationwide) that looks like three members of the political Schumer family who have connections with sale of the NYC libraries.

•    Documentation That Reasons Given For Selling Libraries Are Concocted:  Mr. Wollock documents the Center for an Urban Future was providing part of the push for the sale of NYC libraries saying it was “because of poor layout” and other supposed deficiencies.  But Mr. Wollock shows how that is not the case with the Inwood library despite anything the NYPL might now say about it; that in 2016 the library won an award by popular vote as the best community library in Manhattan; and that late in 2010, NYPL president Tony Marx, who grew up in Inwood knowing the library well, visited and said he was "blown away" by the recent $4.3 million extensive renovations that had also enlarged the library (by 4,000 square feet).  Nevertheless, in early 2017 Iris Weinshall told the press the library was being sold because it was "in poor condition" and there was benefit to "reconfiguring it." Adding insult to injury, developers bidding to now buy and redevelop the library site were told plainly and clearly that they would not get extra credit for offering a better layout, shape or configuration for the replacement library.  There is therefore every likelihood that the replacement library could be a worse library after the developer who is given the site leaves the public with the dregs when that developer has creamed off for itself the space the developer likes best (like with the Brooklyn Heights Business Career and Education Library).

•    Keeping The Public In Desperation:   Going deep into the world of the privatizers to read their own literature Mr. Wollock comes up with a privatization industry saying that provides unfortunate insight into their way of thinking, their goals and tactics: "desperate government is our best customer."
Last on our checklist, before moving on to Mr. Wollock's own words, we should mention, and we know that this is important to Mr, Wollock, that Save Inwood Library and Inwood Legal Action are raising funds to for a lawsuit opposing the library sale.   More about that here:
Urgent Appeal from Save Inwood Library to All Our Library Defenders- Inwood Legal Action Needs to Raise $$$ To File Lawsuit

* * * *
Libraries as Real Estate -How NYC's Libraries are Being Stolen
By Jeffrey Wollock
Save Inwood Library

Abstract: Public libraries have become fair game for misappropriation by real estate interests and their incestuous relationships with city governance. This brief shines a light on the `players’ in this game and reveals the history of complicity that enables and sponsors the de facto theft of these public amenities-the NYC Public Libraries.

The Players

From 2005 through 2018 and ongoing, collaborations have involved:
•    Banks (Deutsche Bank)
•    Nonprofit and for-profit community development financial institutions (Local Initiatives Support Group/LISC, Enterprise Community Partners, Enterprise Community Investment)
•    Community development corporations (Fifth Avenue Committee, a nonprofit developer)
•    Library Trustee Boards NYPL (the three city systems)
•    Philanthropic foundations (Revson, Robin Hood)
•    Think tanks (Center for an Urban Future/CUF, Furman Center (NYU)
•    Management and real-estate consultancies (McKinsey, Booz Hamilton, HR&A)
•    Present and former bureaucrats
•    Politicians and city agencies under two administrations (Bloomberg and de Blasio)
•    Hedge-fund managers
•    Developers and architects.
Together these players have formulated and implemented plans to monetize public library branches throughout the city as real-estate assets for the benefit of developers, under the rationale of responding to shortages in both affordable housing and library funding. Thus far, five projects have been set in motion, one of which was canceled. Two major libraries have been demolished (Donnell, Brooklyn Heights), another project has been approved but not yet implemented (Sunset Park), a fourth was approved in August 2018 (Inwood), and many more are contemplated.

How the 'plan' was implemented-2006

The story begins in 2005-2006 when Michelle de la Uz, Director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, after talks with the Brooklyn Public Library, obtained financing for the Fifth Ave Committee from Deutsche Bank, Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC), and Enterprise Community Investment for initial library real estate inventory studies.  (De la Uz would be appointed to the City Planning Commission by Public Advocate de Blasio in late 2012). Enterprise contributed by commissioning a feasibility study from the Furman Center at NYU.  (Vicki Been, Furman's co-director of Real Estate & Urban Policy, would become one of the two creators of de Blasio's market-oriented housing plan, the other being Carl Weisbrod of HR&A Consultants, Chair of de Blasio's City Planning Commission 2014-2016.) As early as November 2006, a staff lobbyist at the Brooklyn Public Library [Steven Schechter] characterized the plan to redesign libraries as housing sites as "a model that can be replicated in Brooklyn and across the city, and really provide resources to the library that might otherwise not be available, and meet the Mayor's and the city's goal of building additional affordable housing."

Enter: Mega Real Estate-2007

In 2007, the Brooklyn Public Library inaugurated its "Strategic Real Estate Plan," in coordination with the developer Forest City Ratner, owner of sites adjacent to two of the libraries chosen for "redesign." A key member of the strategic real-estate task force was Janet Offensend, whose husband, leveraged-buyout specialist David Offensend, Chief Operating Officer of the NYPL (2004-14), developed the Central Library Plan to monetize NYPL's real-estate holdings, including the sale of the Donnell branch to Orient Express in November, 2007. Donnell would become the model for BPL's Brooklyn Heights sale (2015).  In January 2008, Julie Sandorf, with a background in low-income housing, became President of the Revson Foundation and immediately commissioned a study, "Living Libraries," from the Pratt Center for Community Development."*  Gary Hattem of Deutsche Bank and Brad Lander, then director of the Pratt Center (2004-09) link back to de la Uz and the Fifth Avenue Committee - Hattem as Chair of the Pratt Center Advisory Committee and Lander as de la Uz's former boss at FAC until 2004, when she replaced him as director. As Member for Brooklyn's 39th City Council district (2009-), Lander would later promote the Brooklyn Heights library sale.
(* “Nurturing New Potential in Old Libraries.”)
In March 2008, financier and NYPL trustee Stephen A. Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group donated $100 million to the NYPL, effectively gaining control of policy while the library was launching its "Central Library Plan," a redesign of the main research library building (canceled in 2014 in the face of international protest) to phase it out as a research center, remove its books to remote storage, and promote new retail and circulating library features.*
(* See Scott Sherman, Patience and Fortitude (Melville House, 2015))
The plot thickens-2009

Despite unavailability of funding in 2009-11 due to the 2008 financial crash, planning for monetizing the real estate value of the libraries continued. At the October 11, 2011 meeting of the BPL trustees, President Linda Johnson emphasized the intention of locking the next mayor into the real estate plans, which were then secretly in progress.

Promotion, design studies, and implementation of these plans have been actively under way since 2012.  The Center for an Urban Future, a think-tank for urban development favored by Democrats, has played a major role since about that time, issuing major studies and sponsoring forums funded by Revson. The CUF board of directors includes:
1.    Gifford Miller, former speaker of the City Council (2002-05), real estate investor and developer. A member of the CUF board by 2009, Miller became chair in 2013. His primary campaign for mayor in 2005, though unsuccessful, was a catalyst for the whole library/housing scheme for New York.

2.    John Alschuler, president and chairman of HR&A (Hamilton, Rabinowitz & Alschuler) Advisors, along with Miller, was one of the earliest members of the Friends of the High Line, which they made into a development magnet and gentrification machine. The originators of the idea, David and Hammond, "Enlisting the help of real estate developer John Alschuler … presented the city with a rosy financial picture. Hammond recalled that "[Alschuler] figured out how to frame the argument . . .  parks increase the value of nearby real estate, and thus the addition of a new park on the High Line could create an economic benefit for New York City (David and Hammond 2011: p.45)." (Incidentally, Jim Capalino, the influential lobbyist, was a member of the Friends of the High Line founders board until 2011. Capalino, later instrumental in the Rivington House scandal that caused the resignation of Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris (an HR&A alumnus), left the founders board in 2011 but remains close to Miller and Alschuler.*  Dan Doctoroff, Deputy Mayor under Bloomberg's first two terms (2001-2008), was another early booster of the High Line, which physically connects with his own project, Hudson Yards, the largest real estate development in the world.  Susan Lerner of Common Cause said of FHL's relationship with City Council speakers Gifford Miller and Christine Quinn, "It seems to reinforce the idea that there's too much of a pay-to-play atmosphere at City Hall."
(*Capalino also pushed the Inwood rezoning.)
3.    Margaret Anadu of Goldman Sachs, who replaced Alicia Glen as managing director of Goldman' s Urban Investment Group when Glen joined the de Blasio administration as deputy mayor for housing and economic development. James Patchett, who was appointed head of EDC to succeed Maria Torres Springer, is another Goldman Sachs alumnus. He worked as Alicia's Glen's right-hand man at Goldman Sachs Investment Group and then was her chief of staff in the deputy mayor' office until Feb. 2017.

4.    Lisa Gomez, Chief Operating Officer of L+M Development Partners and wife of John Banks III, president of REBNY and a NYPL trustee. Until February 2018, Gomez was also board chair of the New York Society for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), the major lobbying group for the industry. - Ron Moelis's L+M has been described as Alicia Glen's favorite developer, a relationship that began shortly after she became head of Urban Investment at Goldman in 2002.

5.    Kyle Kimball of Con Edison, former NY Economic Development Corporation (EDC) president under Bloomberg, before that was a vice-president at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. As a Brooklyn Public Library trustee under Bloomberg, Kimball helped move their "Strategic Real Estate Plan" (the BPL analogue of NYPL's Central Library Plan) forward in the years leading up through 2011.

6.    David Lebenstein, executive managing director of Cushman and Wakefield, "a leading global real estate services firm that helps clients transform the way people work, shop and live," with 300 offices in 70+ countries. He is married to Ellen Baer, a protégée of Carl Weisbrod. Baer, a partner at HR&A for 12 years, is now president & CEO of the Hudson Square Connection Business Improvement District and co-chair of the NYC BID Managers Association, which represents the city's 72 Business Improvement Districts - another mechanism for privatization.
It is hard to ignore the prominence of HR&A on the board of CUF, the promoter of "Re-Envisioning New York's Branch Libraries." HR&A, one of the most influential advisory firms under the de Blasio administration, is a real estate consultancy that specializes in brokering public-private partnerships in which "private capital is used to carry out public policy."*  In the Public Interest (ITPI), in its  Weekly Privatization Report for 7-10-2017, notes:
As big banks and their advisers step up their efforts to gobble up income-generating public assets and services, RBC Capital Markets and HR&A Advisors (a real estate deals advisory firm) have produced a new how-to report. Fiscal pressure on government is the key. "As governments struggle to find more money," The Bond Buyer reports, "discussion has been growing about ways in which municipalities can leverage specific public assets to create revenue streams that will allow them to reduce costs while delivering better services. The report focused on using the expertise of the private sector in ways that benefit the public, and provided local governments a best practices guide on ways to do that." As the saying goes in the privatization industry, "desperate government is our best customer." [Report: "Unlocking Value from Public Assets" ; see also ITPI's resources on outsourcing  and PFAW's report on "Predatory Privatization" , ]
(*Joanne Witty & Henrik Krogius, Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Dying Waterfront Transformed, Oxford UP, 2016, p.63.)
Toronto-area native Jamie Torres-Springer, as project director (2005-06) worked on the public/private partnership Brooklyn Bridge Park with Alschuler and David Offensend, becoming an HR&A partner in 2007. On Feb. 7, 2012, at a forum at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, Springer spoke on private funding of public parks; the other presenter, Siobhan Reardon, director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, spoke on problems of library funding. (Linda Johnson, President of BPL since July 2010, had been CEO of the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, 2006-09.) Springer, who became a senior principal at HR&A in 2015, was also co-chair of the board of the Fifth Avenue Committee from at least 2012 to the end of 2016; in the latter year he represented HR&A on a panel on "Public Assets": "Who Gets to Decide What They Are and Whether They Matter?"  His wife since 2008, Maria Torres Springer, was COO of the Friends of the High Line (2012-13) and Mayor de Blasio's pick to head the Small Business Services (2014-15); she headed the NYC Economic Development Corporation from July 2015 and since Feb. 2017 has led the Dept. of Housing Preservation & Development.

Collaborations or...complicity? -2013

January 2013 saw the publication of the Center for an Urban Future's study "Branches of Opportunity."  Recommendations in this CUF document (p.43) parallel the HR&A approach to parks and other public amenities: during this time of tight budgets, new funding sources must be sought; library leaders must begin to change public perceptions of how libraries are funded, i.e. more emphasis must be placed on private funding. "In at least a few cases," libraries should consider selling "older, underperforming branches that are valuable as real estate" to raise revenue for new construction (p.43). The study (ibid.) quotes Vicki Been of the Furman Center: "New York City libraries could be sitting on as much as 4.5 million square feet of transferable air rights." Been believes (ibid.) that current rules for air-rights transfers are too restrictive and should be far more expansive.*  As de Blasio's head of HPD (2014-2017), controlling the fate of city-owned housing, Been would cheerlead the library/housing projects.
(*Transferable air rights played a major role in the developments around the High Line. See V. Been & J. Infranca, Transferable Development Rights Programs POST-ZONING? Brooklyn Law R.78:2 (2013), 435-465.)
Designing the template for Library 'bait and switch' -2014

In January 2014, Bill De Blasio was inaugurated mayor. He chose Alicia Glen, head of Goldman Sachs's Urban Investment Group, as Deputy Mayor for Housing.  Sale of the Brooklyn Heights branch to major de Blasio donor David Kramer of Hudson Development, to be replaced by a 36-story luxury condo tower with a much smaller library beneath it, was approved by the City Council in late 2015,  despite the fact, later revealed, that Hudson bid lower than two others. E-mails obtained by the NY Post under Freedom of Information laws and made public in October 2018 showed that Kramer had at least two communications with Alicia Glen before the project was awarded to his company. The tone of the e-mails suggested a sweetheart deal. Contacts between bidders and city officials during bidding competitions are against state law.

On September 15, 2014, Center for an Urban Future published a study, "Re-Envisioning New York's Branch Libraries," which identified ten libraries (pp.51-52) as "branches across the city that … would benefit from a new building and are located on lots whose size and zoning would allow construction of apartment units in addition to a new branch." (According to a footnote, this idea was first investigated in the aforementioned Revson/Pratt Center Study of 2008.) "Because of poor layout," [they] struggle to meet the needs of their communities." They were "built between 1952 and 1981" and lack "obvious architectural or historical value. A number are Lindsay boxes, stretched desperately for space." Inwood is one of the ten. However, Inwood does not have poor layout, is neither a Lindsay Box*  nor "stretched desperately for space," nor is it "struggling to meet the needs of its community" - in 2016 it won an award by popular vote as the best community library in Manhattan.
(* Small, cheaply built libraries dating from the time of Mayor John Lindsay (1966 1973), described by CUF's David Giles as " shoebox-style branches that are about 7,500 square feet. See Lisa L. Colangelo, "Libraries Boxed In," NY Daily News, September 16, 2014 Tuesday, Queens News, p.31. See also Re-Envisioning New York's Branch Libraries, pp. 6-7.)
The Inwood library is actually a larger than the average NYC branch building; it was designed by a major architect, William G. Tachau, and is historically important as the first library built in New York City after World War 2, designed to new standards of library design and postwar city planning.*  It was extensively renovated in 1998-2001 at a cost of $4.3 million, almost 90% from city funds. Renovations included ADA compliance, new computers, new lighting, new air conditioning, a full-service elevator, a new central staircase from the main floor to the children's floor, and a new story hour room for children. Floor space was enlarged by 4,000 square feet, including a high-ceilinged sunlit expansion of the children's area. A new roof was added after leaks were found in the old one.**  It is, however, a prime real estate location, especially when included in the Inwood rezoning plan, with valuable air rights. 
(*New York City Planning Commission, with Alfred M. Githens & Ralph Munn. Program for the Public Libraries of New York City. New York, 1945; See also Lawrence M. Orton, (NYC Planning Commissioner). New Yorks Postwar Public Libraries. [Text of a talk broadcast over WNYC radio, October 24, 1944]. Library Journal 70 (March 15, 1945), 240-242.
** Norman Holdman, Inwood Branch Will Open Soon, Manhattan Times, Nov.9, 2000, p.6; NYPLs Adopt-a-Branch Renovates Six Libraries, Library Hotline, Volume 30 (July 16, 2001), p.2)
In December 2014, at a symposium on library design connected with "Re-Envisioning New York's Branch Libraries," architect James Lima stated (third video):
… it's interesting to look at a site like Rego Park and say, in its larger context, if we were thinking about the potential for these locations that are within the control of the library system, if you thought about it like a real-estate developer would think about it … there's a very low-intensity use adjacent to this site, a one-story commercial use, that could potentially be assembled,  and again, if the community felt strongly about enhancing the significance and the potential for this site, one might think about  zoning modification and an assemblage that will allow for a significantly greater number of residential units, in this case 100 additional residential units, and 34,000 square feet of retail.*
(* Architectural League of NY and Center for an Urban Future, Re-Envisioning Branch Libraries Design Showcase and Policy Symposium" at the Japan Society. “… six interdisciplinary design teams came together to present their answers to these questions …”) 
In another associated event in January 2015, a presentation of library design studies, one participant told the audience:
And again, as the final presentation has shown, and we will see again hopefully, at the end a library is real estate.  It's an integral ingredient in urban development.  I've studied libraries for years, and many design projects around the country have found it's often a nice placating gesture in a real estate development. You want to do commercial development?: Put a library in it and you win a new public that you might not have had on your team initially.  So in short a library has many fronts and functions.
These statements correspond almost exactly to the Inwood Library plan that would emerge two years later.

Application for the site of a new TEP (The Equity Project) charter school at 153 Sherman Avenue, Inwood, was filed in December 2014.  Hedge-funder philanthropist Steven A. Cohen and his wife donated $3 million for the school in 2015 through the Steven A. & Alexandra Cohen Foundation.  Plans were unveiled in August 2016.  Evidence suggests that the Cohens may have also played a hidden role in the financing of the Inwood Library project. The dates coordinate very neatly, especially considering that the Inwood project, with financial support from Robin Hood, was first announced to the trustees in May 2016 (albeit obliquely, without naming the library or the foundation). Steven Cohen was chair of the Emeritus Board of the Robin Hood Foundation, after a decade (2004-2014) on the board, and one of Robin Hood's largest contributors.

At a meeting of the NYPL Board of Trustees on May 11, 2016, Chief Operating Officer Iris Weinshall told the trustees of "an interesting initiative that has come our way: a major foundation here in the city of New York has approached the library about working with us on one of our libraries in upper Manhattan to create affordable housing on the site … the plus for the library is that this foundation along with HPD, which is a city agency, is prepared to provide the library with the total funding for reconstruction of the library on the site. So this would present a great opportunity for us … there will be more discussion and Tony [NYPL president Tony Marx] and I are involved with the foundation in discussion."

Not until seven months later was it revealed that the 'lucky' library was Inwood, and that the "major foundation" was Robin Hood, "Wall Street's favorite charity,"  a so-called "venture philanthropy" run by hedge-fund managers who continually lobby the state to lower funds for district schools and raise them for charters, which they promote and invest in.  Robin Hood has so much "pull" with the mayor that, as a major contributor to the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, it was given its own tribute page in the Fund's annual report for 2016. Chief of Staff at Robin Hood at this time was Jessica Schumer, daughter of Iris Weinshall and Senator Schumer.

Reynold Levy, president of the Robin Hood Foundation, was at that time also chairman of the board at Revson, whose secretary Cheryl Effron had been appointed to the City Planning Commission in 2014. (Another Revson board member, Sharon Greenberger, a former Chief of Staff to Daniel Doctoroff, head of EDC under Bloomberg, had been the leader of the BPL "Strategic Real Estate" task force; in the late 1990s she had been VP for Economic Development with Carl Weisbrod's Alliance for Downtown NY and Chief of Staff of Chuck Schumer's Group of 35.)

In early March 2017, Weinshall stated that "The library system hired a consultant to assess all its branches last year and found Inwood touched all the "sweet spots… The community was demanding more affordable housing, there were air rights above our library and the library was in poor condition."

But something is not right here - the library was not in poor condition. NYPL president Tony Marx, who grew up in Inwood, knew the library well. Visiting after many years in late 2010, Marx said he was "blown away" by the renovations.  Less than 4 years later, CUF would recommend Inwood as an excellent candidate for demolition. Two years after that an unknown consultant hired by the NYPL declares it in "poor condition."

The role of Capalino + Company and their client Taconic Investment Partners in "jump-starting' the Inwood rezoning became clear by the spring of 2017.  At the end of that year, Peter Febo, as CEO of Beam Living, a "Blackstone Portfolio Company," purchased a 70-80% interest in a portfolio of 12 multi-family buildings, 4 or 5 in Inwood, the rest in adjoining areas of Washington Heights.  Until a few months before this deal, Febo had been Chief Operating Officer of Taconic. Blackstone, the company run by NYPL's dominant trustee Schwarzman, stands to make big profits from the rezoning rise in property values and and the influx of a wealthier population that the rezoning will bring about. Although no direct link can or need be shown, connections of this kind bring into clearer relief how powerful real estate firms influence NYPL policy.

Done deal?… fait accompli?-2017

Public announcement of the Inwood "library redesign" plan did not come until January 5, 2017.  The Inwood community, having had no premonition whatsoever, was stunned. Besides, many alternative city-owned alternative sites in the area are available for housing. Adding insult to injury, the city administration's promotion team had no plan to provide any temporary library service or space for this neighborhood, a community without any bookstores or school librarians. In May, the NYC EDC folded the the library project into a massive rezoning plan for all of Inwood north of Dyckman Street. This rezoning was approved by the City Council on August 8, 2018.

Three public "workshops" on the library project were held at the end of January 2017. At one, reference was made to a major donation for this project by someone "who grew up in Washington Heights." At the time, the participants were at a loss to guess the donor's identity, but Alexandra Cohen (maiden name: Garcia), who did indeed grow up in Washington Heights, and who gives a lot of money to Robin Hood, perfectly fits the profile.


The model is similar to "venture capitalism": buy a company, run it into the ground by downsizing and refusing to invest in it, then sell it off. The main difference is that instead of a company, the entity in question is a public amenity that is supposed to be supported by public funds. Thus the proponents benefit first by not paying their share of taxes to support the service, second by receiving subsidies and tax abatements for projects that are supposedly for the "public good"; third by manipulating the zoning and transferable air rights related to the property for the profit of themselves and their cronies. They call this "unlocking the value of public assets," but a more fitting description is private appropriation of public property.

The aggressive "self-dealing" of real-estate entities and their aiders and abettors,  designing public policy for their own benefit and channeling it through politicians under their control through pay-to-play campaign contributions and  non-transparent slush funds, is a blatant feature throughout the history of this project. The tiny "fig leaf" of so-called affordable housing as a public benefit cannot hide the fact that this is a tool for real-estate development and private enrichment, by which the public loses far more than it gains.

The actors responsible are linked by incestuous connections and "revolving door" relationships with the city; there is neither public accountability nor oversight. Rather, plans are kept secret for years until officially announced, giving the developers a tremendous head-start advantage on the public. Then, in a Potemkin Village replica of democracy, the public is subjected to a complex, drawn-out, pseudo-participatory public process on the "Decide-Announce-Defend" model, an exhausting, demoralizing, pro-forma exercise which appears to give them a part in the decision-making process, but does not.

The NYPL's Circulation Division (i.e. the branches) has depended almost entirely on the city for its land, buildings, operating funds and capital funds since its inception in 1902, including the Carnegie donations for library buildings, which were given to the city. These support the NYPL's mission, which is to provide free library services to the public. Library services, however broadly defined, do not include the provision of affordable housing or the facilitation of zoning changes. Indeed, these may even conflict with legitimate funding goals: For example, the city provided all the money for the construction of the Inwood library (1950-52) and nearly 90% of the funds for its extensive renovation less than 20 years ago, a long-term investment that this plan would annihilate. No matter how eager and willing the NYPL trustees may be to facilitate the city housing/zoning plan, no such acts are envisioned under the special services for which it is funded.

The NYPL would argue that they are building a new library in the process. Yes - they are building an unneeded new library by a process that CUF and associated organizations conceived as an innovative tool for rezoning and real estate development; NYPL's  role in helping the mayor attain his housing goals is a fig-leaf, and patently political. Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone group, the world's largest real estate investor, and John Banks III, president of REBNY, are both trustees of the NYPL.

It will also be argued that unlike the 36-story luxury condo tower now being built one the site of the demolished Brooklyn Heights Library, the Inwood site will have 175 units of affordable housing. But based on transfer of the library's air rights, the Inwood deal makes possible the R8A zoning that allows the construction of 14-story market rate condos on a string of lots extending from the library to Dyckman street, a frontage four  times that of the library/housing lot. So the two situations are not so different after all. The fact is that the Brooklyn Heights sale also promises 114 affordable units in Cobble Hill, two miles away. But is the loss of two great public libraries the price we have to pay for 114 units or even 175 units of affordable housing? Especially when in the case of Cobble Hill, it is at another site - the Inwood housing could just as well be on another site too. But in Inwood too, luxury housing is the tail wagging the dog of affordable housing. It will also mean the end of Fine Fare, one of Inwood's few supermarkets (and C-Town on Broadway near 207th will surely suffer the same fate) - the beginning of a "food desert" for Inwood's less affluent residents.

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Jeffrey Wollock, historian, musician, editor and founding member of Save Inwood Library, is a resident of Inwood, Manhattan;. Co-author of the Encyclopedia of the American Indian in the Twentieth Century, he worked with indigenous communities as Research Director of the Solidarity Foundation. In 1989 he founded the NY James Bay Defense Coalition to coordinate support for northern Canadian Inuit and Cree communities' successful fight against a massive hydroelectric megaproject. He holds a D.Phil. in history from Oxford University.


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