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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

NEWS ADVISORY- Brooklyn Community Board 2 Votes Wednesday, July 15th On Proposed Fire Sale of Major Public Asset, Central Destination Library In Downtown Brooklyn

Forewarned and Forearmed Brooklyn Community Board 2 Votes Wednesday, July 15th On Proposed Fire Sale of Major Public Asset, Central Destination Library In Downtown Brooklyn
New York City

WHAT: Community Board 2 Votes On Proposed Fire Sale of Major Public Asset, Central Destination Library In Downtown Brooklyn
WHEN: Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 6:00 P.M.
WHERE: St. Francis College, Founders Hall, 180 Remsen Street (Court and Clinton streets) Brooklyn, New York 11201
WHAT ELSE?:  Citizens Defending Libraries will be on hand to provide facts about the vote and explain the votes significance. 

This Wednesday, July 15th at 6:00 PM Brooklyn’s Community Board 2 will meet to vote on the proposed sale for a pittance of a valuable publicly owned asset worth well over $100 million, (probably $120 million or above), the Brooklyn Heights Library, the central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn on Cadman Plaza West at the corner of Tillary and Clinton Streets.

Unprecedented Vote Will Set Precedent Affecting the City

Brooklyn Heights central destination downtown library
This will be the first-ever community board vote on the proposed sale and drastic shrinkage of a major New York City library (proposed to be turned into a real estate deal) after a public hearing required under ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) because it is a sale of city-owned property.

No matter what happens CB2's vote will be momentous.  If the board votes “NO,” it will constitute a rejection of the “City For Sale” agenda launched and in full swing when the Bloomberg administration left office.  If the board votes “YES” to approve the proposal it will set the table for future developers to feast on public assets, laying out an exact playbook developers and complicit public officials can use to target which assets they want.

“Developers will swarm around our public assets in droves,” says Citizens Defending Libraries co-founder Michael D. D. White, “because any approval of this deal would also announce to them just how much below their true value to the public such treasures can be sold.”

The CB2 members are forewarned because the lack of transparency and the lack of public benefit in real estate deals and library shrinkage plans previously announced by library administration officials has been well documented with notorious acknowledged blunders (the Donnell Library sale and NYPL Central Library Plan).  More is set forth at length in our press release. CB2 members are also clearly forewarned because the proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights library for a paltry sum is closely modeled on the reviled Donnell sale.  There are even links.
Link to press release:

The Donnell sale and Central Library Plan shrinkage were overseen by NYPL Chief Operating Officer David Offensend (having come from Blackstone Group spin-off Evercore).  At the same time COO Offensend was pushing through these NYPL transactions his wife, Janet Offensend, assumed an important place on the Brooklyn Public Library board where the sale plans for the Brooklyn Heights Library were concurrently conceived, together with the BPL’s still secretively withheld “strategic real estate plan” that envisions similarly turning the rest of the real estate of the Brooklyn Public Library system (“over 1,000,000 square feet of real estate” according to BPL president Linda Johnson) into leveraging and redevelopment deals.

CB2 members are also clearly forewarned because Bill de Blasio has warned what we see going on here.

“It’s public land and public facilities and public value under threat. . . and once again we see, lurking right behind the curtain, real estate developers who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties,” (1:00) said Bill de Blasio standing on the steps of the 42nd Street Library with Citizens Defending Libraries in July 2013 calling for a halt to this sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library and other threatened NYC libraries.  It was right after this that his campaign approval ratings in his race for mayor skyrocketed.

Unfortunately, just a few months later de Blasio was receiving money sent to him by the development team now proposed to be handed this library at the same time their application for the sale was pending.

The Brooklyn Heights Library is a central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn.  It is now 63,000 square feet.  It is now that large because, at considerable public expense and sacrifice, it was substantially enlarged (by one-third) and fully upgraded, reopening in the fall of 1993.  That complete renovation makes it five years newer than the adjacent Forest City Ratner One Pierrepont Plaza Morgan Stanley building where presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has located her national headquarters (more than 80,000 square feet of space).

Candidate de Blasio said the library should open up its books.  Instead, the BPL is embracing non-transparency as its modus operandi in pushing this deal.  That’s something, Citizens Defending Libraries has warned the CB2 members about. . .

. . . Indeed, BPL minutes show that in 2011 when BPL president Linda Johnson was explaining to her board the need to keep information about the “the real estate plan” in “strict confidence” she reminded the BPL board that the “goal was to get far enough into the plan with this Mayor [Bloomberg] so that when a new Mayor takes office, the plan will be deep in progress and he or she will not derail it.”

There is another absolutely startling major part of this story that remains to be flushed out with further investigation and disclosure.  The developer has refused to say how much of a payday the private Saint Ann's School is getting from the public's sale and shrinkage of the library.  He asserts that this is because it's a private transaction, even though it's driving this public one.  (Should Saint Ann's be paying the BPL for this benefit?-  It doesn’t seem like that is being negotiated by the BPL.)  Quite likely, Saint Ann’s may get more money free and clear from this sale than the BPL is netting.

Community groups and the CB2 Land Use Committee have called for a halt to further discretionary approvals of additional massive new residential towers like this one, until the PS8 infrastructure problem gets addressed.  This is another problem the CB2 members have foreknowledge of by reason of which they should not approve this subtraction from the public’s assets and infrastructure.

The ways in which this giveaway of public assets is designed to promote gentrification are unmistakable.  Right now the library is a public asset democratically serving everyone equally, drawing patrons from all over to the borough’s downtown on the border of increasingly elite on Brooklyn Heights. Shutting down the library would result in lower income patrons coming to the neighborhood being, in effect, "disinvited"  In the place of a library serving everybody a high-end luxury tower would be built.  As a sop to excuse the inexcusable, give the mayor plausible cover to sell public assets cheap, and try to divide the community, a few so-called "affordable" housing units the developer built "poor door" style at a far remove from Brooklyn's burgeoning downtown and upper crust Brooklyn Heights.  114 units would be built altogether, but fully half of those units would essentially be market rate with many units being small units such as studios.

The lack of transparency on the part of the BPL should itself present an irrefutable reason for CB2 members to refuse the approval the BPL is requesting.  As with Donnell and the Central Library Plan, lack of transparency often goes hand in hand with detriments to, and sell-outs of, the public interest and should be treated as an indicator of such.

Information has been requested of the BPL and the BPL has stonewalled and not furnished that information in response.
 No such hearings were required when the Donnell Library was suddenly and secretively sold off because, in that case, the library, not the city, owned the land.  Because the proposed sell-off of this Downtown Brooklyn Library is closely modeled on, almost identical to, the sale of Donnell Library this is an opportunity for the public to send a clear signal in retrospect that the Donnell sale was also wrong..  Similarly, such a hearing isn't required for the now threatened sale of another major destination library, SIBL, Science, Industry and Business Library at 34th Street.  What CB2 votes will likely affect the proposed sale of that library too.

Carolyn E. McIntyre, Michael D. D. White
Michael White, 718-834-6184, mddwhite {at aol.com
Carolyn McIntyre, 917-757-6542 cemac62
{at aol.com

Follow us on Twitter: @defendinglibraries

For photos and videos of prior Citizens Defending Libraries rallies opposing the sale, shrinkage, underfunding of New York City libraries, and elimination of books and librarians in the year and a half since its founding, see:



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