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, January 31, 2019

It Gets Personal, But This Gossip Is, In Fact, Real News About The Business of Selling Libraries- Two From That Constellation of Library-Selling Stars Hook Up As A Couple: Bruce Ratner and Brooklyn Library President Linda Johnson– Guess Where?

The photo of Bruce and Linda that creeps in here is from a recent BPL gala
Sometimes to report truly relevant news, even about the real estate deal sales that plunder our libraries, you have to sound a little bit like a gossip column. . . .

Guess who’s dating whom on the sly?  Guess who just got divorced?  What two darlings spotlighted in the annals of library sell-off deals are shacking up in a love nest the location of which you might find startling and hard to fathom?

A couple of days ago reporting by the Real Deal highlighted three “memorable” residential sales that just “popped up in records.”  The number one deal highlighted was a couple’s purchase of one of the luxury condo apartments in the much litigated over and promenade-view-impairing Pierhouse development in Brooklyn Bridge Park at 130 Furman Street. . .

And who was the “couple”?: it was Bruce Ratner and Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson.

To wit, here is what the Real Deal reported:
    1.) Forest City Ratner co-founder Bruce Ratner along with Linda Johnson snapped up a condominium along the Brooklyn waterfront. The couple paid $4.7 million for the two-bedroom pad at 130 Furman Street. Ratner split from Dr. Pamela Lipkin, a plastic surgeon, who at one point during the couple’s divorce had alleged Ratner was trying to evict her from her clinic at 128 East 62nd Street.
See:  These are some of the most notable NYC resi sales of the week- Lots of Brooklyn Nets connections, by Mary Diduch, January 28, 2019

We generally like to be well wishers when couples unite, but what a confluence of the unsavory this is.  Where do we start in making the connections; there are so many connectable dots in play:
    •    Bruce Ratner is, after all, the Bruce Ratner “developer” of Forest City Ratner, who, as in the case of the Atlantic Yards Project (now going by the alias “Pacific Park”- Park?), has specialized in subsidy collection and preferential no-bid handouts from government.  When BPL president Linda Johnson first announced the sale of Brooklyn public libraries, saying that the BPL wanted to sell the most valuable libraries first, the two libraries at the top of her list for sale first were both adjacent to Forest City Ratner property.  See:  What Could We Expect Forest City Ratner Would Do With Two Library Sites On Sale For The Sake Of Creating Real Estate Deals? and A Ratner in the Stacks: Library To Sell Forest City-Adjacent Branches, by Stephen Jacob Smith, February 5, 2013.

    •    The BPL’s plan that prioritized for first sale of the two Ratner adjacent was part of a strategic real estate plan that applied to all Johnson’s BPL libraries, and we found out that the consultant who put that plan to together was Karen Backus of Karen Backus & Associates. Karen Backus was Vice President at Forest City Ratner until 1997 when she left to start this firm.  See: Mostly In Plain Sight (A Few Conscious Removals Notwithstanding) Minutes Of Brooklyn Public Library Tell Shocking Details Of Strategies To Sell Brooklyn’s Public Libraries.

    •    BPL’ spokesperson Josh Nachowitz said that the BPL would not rule out the possibility that it would sell to Ratner one of those BPL libraries prioritized for first sale, the second biggest library in Brooklyn, the central destination Business, Career and Education Brooklyn Heights federal depository library in downtown Brooklyn.  Ultimately, under the circumstances, doing so would have been very bad optics.  The Heights library was not, in fact sold to Ratner.  Nevertheless, the deal was structured in such a way that Ratner became the gatekeeper controlling whether the transaction could proceed.  See: Forest City Ratner As The Development Gatekeeper (And Profit taker) Getting The Benefit As Brooklyn Heights Public Library Is Sold.

    •    BPL president Johnson and Ratner will settle into the Pierhouse amongst company they know well and have significant connections to.  In September 2015 it was considered a scandal when it was discovered that Hank Gutman (Henry B. Gutman) and David Offensend had both purchased condo apartments in the Brooklyn Bridge Park Pierhouse condominium.  Both Gutman and Offensend were board members of the board of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (BBPC) that had to approve the Pierhouse development, something that then required the Conflicts of Interest Board to rule on whether this was a conflict (a ruling that it is not, is only a ruling by a politically connected COIB).  The Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation has pushed for development in Brooklyn Bridge Park.  It has a lot of probably not so coincidental overlap with the board of the BPL where the trustees have pushed to turn libraries into real estate development.  Two of those overlaps are Mr. Gutman and Mr. Offensend themselves. Mr. Gutman who is also on the BPL board has been one of those pushing for library sales.  Mr. Offensend’s wife, Janet Offensend, was also on the BPL board for a critical period of time where she spearheaded adoption of the BPL strategic real estate plan to sell BPL libraries. That included hiring consultant Karen Backus from Forest City Ratner and overseeing the creation and submission of the Backus recommendations).  Janet Offensend’s work as a trustee closely mirrors the work that David Offensend, her husband, was concurrently doing as he set NYC public libraries up for sale when he was Chief Operating Officer of the New York Public Library (NYPL).  Thus, two of the first library sales by the NYPL and BPL respectively, the shrink-and-sink deal of the Donnell Library and the shrink-and-sink deal of the Brooklyn Heights Library (with Ratner as gatekeeper) mirrored each other closely   

    •    With David Offensend being involved in the approval of both transactions, Starwood Development wound up being involved both as a developer of the challenged Pierhouse development in Brooklyn Bridge Park and the luxury development that replaced the Donnell Library sold by the NYPL.

    •    The reason that the Pierhouse development was legally challenged, that community residents were so angry with the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation and its board, and with Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation board members Gutman and Offensend getting condo apartments from the developer (even if the COIB declared there was no conflict of interest) was because of the shenanigans involved when the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (pushing for more development all the time anyway) allowed the Pierhouse development to violate representations and promises made to the community: The Pierhouse development surprised the community by being built extra tall, and obliterated views from the Brooklyn Heights promenade that were supposed to have been protected.  The Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation tried shuffling off some of the blame to the Pierhouse development architects and including the way that those architects had done their numbers while interpreting some obscure rules the architects chose to apply in making the Pierhouse taller.

    •    Johnson and Ratner’s familiarity with Marvel Architects, the architects of their new digs also relates to libraries.  Marvel Architects, headed by Jonathan Marvel, in addition with being accused of running funny numbers to make Pierhouse taller is also the architect for the luxury tower replacing the Brooklyn Heights Business, Career and Education Library, plus is acting as advisor to Ms. Johnson and the BPL on design issues related to selling that library.  Marvel, as advisor to the BPL and Ms. Johnson came up with some very suspicious numbers respecting book counts and bookshelf capacity as the BPL tried to mount and press arguments to ensure that the library was sold for development.  See: It’s Marvelous To Have Books!- Indeed, But Architect Jonathan Marvel Designs a Library Seemingly Oblivious To The Tradition of Finding Books In The Library.

•         At this point, would it be superfluous to add that one of the first so-called “public/private partnerhsips” that BPL president has recommended for the BPL to be pursuing manifested itself in the form of the BPL partnering to promote to local school children Ratner’s Nets at his Atlantic Yards “Barclays” arena?
Back to gossip our column Hedda Hopper voice: We have a page up with more about the BPL trustees and the BPL’s senior officers including well worth reviewing bio of Linda Johnson,  Ms. Johnson started at the BPL in July 2010.  At her first meeting with the BPL board Ms. Johnson told the board how the BPL's real estate plans were her priority and not long thereafter reminded the BPL to remember that their goal was to lock the next mayor (whoever was successor to Bloomberg) into the real estate plans that were secretly underway.
Prior relationship: Linda Johnson with billionaire Leonard Lauder.
Often noted is that until December 2013 Johnson was dating another very wealthy man from a big company, Leonard Lauder, with plans to marry that were broken off just before the scheduled ceremony.  The New York Post states that they had been dating since 2012.  The Times says they were engaged in 2013.  (The relationship reportedly began after Lauder’s first wife Evelyn died in 2011.)  Leonard Lauder's very politically active brother Ron Lauder, also a famously wealthy billionaire was involved in clearing the prohibitions that allowed Bloomberg to get his third term.

The Pierhouse development offers extraordinary views of the New York’s harbor and the lower Manhattan skyline.  What allows it to manage it to do so involves, to an extent, the interposition by which the Pierhouse is grabbing views that were previously available from the Brooklyn Heights promenade and no longer are.  That raises an overall question about who gets the benefit when public assets are usurped for private benefit . . 
Above: Luxury NY Harbor and Manhattan skyline views offered, respectively by Pierhouse where Bruce and Linda bought a condo and by the luxury tower replacing Brooklyn's second biggest library that they were involved in selling off.
The luxury tower now replacing the downtown Heights Business, Career and Education Library that will now dominate the sky of historic Brooklyn Heights is, similarly to the Pierhouse, advertising stunning views.   Those views likewise include sweeping views of the harbor and the downtown Manhattan skyline.  And, as that luxury tower looks down on the much shorter federal courthouse across that way (that, with some success, was challenged for being too tall) it is worthwhile to remember that the spectacular views offered to residents of that tower are based on what the public sacrificed.  We mean by that not only the surrender of the skies of over historic Brooklyn Heights, but the sacrifice of a major library that was recently thoroughly renovated and upgraded to be state-of-the-art and one of the best in the BPL system.

If you are benefitting from the views in either of these developments you are unlikely to have second thoughts about any diminishment of the public realm by which those views may have been achieved.  However, like Bruce and Linda, you may have to keep buying new apartments, whatever has just been built, to stay ahead, and keep you back turned on the losses the public realm is suffering. . .   But the option of continually buying new apartments affording the latest edition of a good view may be something that only those who remain wealthy will be able to afford– That's true; Isn’t it? . .

. . . In that case, if you are benefitting from these newly marketed views, you might indeed actually have second thoughts about the diminishment of the public realm that made it all possible.  That’s because, like Bruce and Linda, your ongoing participation in that diminishment is vital your staying one step ahead on the treadmill.

(BTW: For those who may be confused seeing recent pictures of Mr. Ratner, he has recently shed a great deal of weight.)

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