Saturday, October 18, 2014

“We’re Starting From Scratch!” Says Developer Getting Brooklyn Heights Library Site- So How Tall Luxury Building Replacing Library Will Be And What It Will Look Like Is Unknown!

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe- What might the luxury tower proposed to replace the Brooklyn Heights Library looks like?  We don’t now how tall or what shape, or anything, because the developer is “starting from scratch” stealing shamelessly from his competitors
The big, takeaway-with-a-gasp headline from the Tuesday, October 7th “Community Advisory Committee” meeting about selling and shrinking the Brooklyn Heights was that the developer said that he couldn’t say how tall the luxury tower replacing the Brooklyn Heights Library will be or what that building will look like, because, now that his company has been awarded the bid for the library site, they are “starting from scratch . .  just beginning” and that he could “now shamelessly steal” from his competitors to design what might actually be built.

Invisible Dog, Invisible . . . .

Ergo, a tricky feat was managed: While the CAC meeting had aspects of a dog and pony show where Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson and cohorts were self-congratulatorily announcing their plans with an odd sense of certainty and inevitability, there was a certain invisibility to both the dog starring in the show (a library proposed to be vastly shrunken) and the pony (the luxury tower).
Version of Proposal F released by the BPL- Without the Saint Ann's development rights included to make it taller?
How tall might the luxury tower be and what might it look like?  If David Kramer and his Hudson Companies are stealing shamelessly from his competitors that means that anything that was previously possible or under consideration is still possible and under consideration.  It means the tower might, in height, be the equivalent of 45 to 55-stories.  That’s what was being looked at in terms of “Proposal F.”  See the analysis done of all the previously competing designs when they were presented:  Monday, December 16, 2013, Tall Stories- Buildings Proposed To Shrink The Brooklyn Heights Library: Brooklyn Public Library Publishes Seven Luxury Building Proposals To Shrink Away Brooklyn Heights Library.

There is an incentive for the developer to make his building as tall as possible that was highlighted in the Request For Proposals (RFP) that the BPL and New York City Economic Development Corporation issued that touted to developers the benefits of buying the library site.
The site enjoys park views to the east with the prospect of achieving views of Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines, as well as of the New York Harbor and bridges.
(See: Friday, September 20, 2013, Forest City Ratner As The Development Gatekeeper (And Profit taker) Getting The Benefit As Brooklyn Heights Public Library Is Sold.)

By making two choices the developer increases the number of luxury apartments that will vault into the heavens high enough to see over the rest of the neighborhood and across the harbor: 1.) make the building tall and skinny, and 2.) go with extra tall floor to floor/ceiling heights.  Each of these choices is all the more likely to be the developer’s strategy in the New York City market where an increasingly large part of the city’s luxury condo ales are comprised of what a New York Magazine cover story referred to has high-end “stash pads,” apartments that are pitched, largely to foreigners, as money-sponge assets, ways to soak up and park illegally obtained or ill-gotten gains now that new post-9/11 laws prohibit Swiss bank accounts from performing the functions they formerly did.  See:  Stash Pad- The New York real-estate market is now the premier destination for wealthy foreigners with rubles, yuan, and dollars to hide, (Why New York Real Estate Is the New Swiss Bank Account), by Andrew Rice, June 29, 2014  and (from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) Hidden in Plain Sight: New York Just Another Island Haven, By Michael Hudson, Ionut Stanescu and Samuel Adler-Bell, July 3, 2014.

Image that appeared in the New York Times and elsewhere as if the developer wasn't "starting from scratch" and incorrectly reporting that the tower would be "20 stories"
Asking how tall the new luxury tower might be or what it would look like might have seemed a somewhat stupid, time-wasting question when it was asked, given that when the BPL issued its press release about the selection of a developer an image of a building submitted with the developer’s proposal circulated and appeared in all the press reports including the New York Times.  The question, in fact, was far from foolhardy given the developer’s response.
Two incorrect reports that the new tower would be 20 stories.  On the left the New York Times correction.  On the left, the same incorrect information in a photo caption on the Brooklyn Paper
Another reason it made sense to ask?: After the BPL press release and press conference announcing the developer’s selection there were reporters, including for the New York Times and the Brooklyn Paper, who got the misimpression that the tower would only be 20 stories tall,  The information was incorrectly reported  with corrections needing to be made later.

You also can’t trust pictures that developers release to promote their projects as really being reflective of what the buildings will look like in relation to their environs.  Right now Forest City Ratner is taking lumps for new project renderings that obviously distort, trying to make proposed new Atlantic Yards (aka “Pacific Park” as euphemistically renamed) mega-project buildings look smaller. See these two recent articles: Friday, October 10, 2014, 550 Vanderbilt condo renderings fudge transition from row houses to tower; building marketed along with Nets in China and Tuesday, September 02, 2014, Playing with perspective: how renderings suggest new 18-story tower (smallest of all) almost harmonizes with row houses.  And see these older articles:  Wednesday, December 18, 2013, What's wrong with this picture? Atlantic Yards B2 rendering skews several perspectives, suggests clock tower,  Friday, September 26, 2008, Weighing Scale, and Thursday, September 10, 2009, The Surrounding Light Smears Ratner's Atlantic Yards Arena.
A taller version of Proposal F if Saint Ann's and Ratner development rights were used?
Lastly, another reason to wonder about how tall and large the building actually built might be is that none of the seven renderings previously presented to the public showed the development using all of the available development rights.  . . . . Six of the seven did not show development using the substantial development rights that Saint Ann’s, the private school on the same block (on the other side of the Forest City Ratner building) will transfer in when its zoning lot is joined with the Ratner zoning lot, as the library property is already joined.  From recent details released (the fact that Saint Ann’s is getting a new gymnasium out of the transaction and has been briefing its faculty on the benefits of the library sale and shrinkage for Saint Ann’s) it seems clear that this developer is, now at least, doing business with Saint Ann’s.  But did the developer’s original proposal reflect that fact?  If so, then “Proposal F” by another developer depicting the tallest of the proposed towers was a depiction that didn’t already include the Saint Ann’s development rights, a proposal that when stolen “shamelessly” can be much taller when the Saint Ann’s and unused Ratner rights are transferred in.
Developer David Kramer of the Hudson Companies speaking at the CAC meeting
Here is exactly what the developer said about how the building could be just about any size or shape when was asked about how tall, how many stories the luxury building would actually be.
So we’re sort of starting from scratch and trying to figure it out.  And you know we have different options.  You can have a taller slender building.  You can have a shorter squatter building.  Uhm, and so we are going to look at different options.  So, right now, we’re sort of. . uhm,. .. we’re just beginning.  We have scratch paper and we haven’t finalized uhm, either the floor to floor height for any individual apartment or the shape of the building.

And, in fact, you know an interesting dynamic is we can now shamelessly steal from all our competitors.  There were fourteen proposals and seven finalists.  I got to see six other designs.  Some of them are good friends of mine and I asked if I could go, you know, take a look at their proposal and they greet my request with a combination of anger and (laugh) friendship, uhm . . .and uhm. .  the BHA had good and bad things to say about those seven proposal and we sort of want to, uhm. . . you now, think about it, and see what people like, and what we like, and you know-   You don’t want to have it designed too much by committee, a camel as the joke goes,  . . . But, uhm, we want to. uhm, take a little time to figure it out.
Here is Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube of the developer's statement:

 

Hudson Companies on Library Tower: What Design? We Have Scratch Paper.  (Click through to YouTube for best viewing.)

The Brooklyn Heights Blog has recently covered the proposed Brooklyn Heights Library sale and shrinkage in a series of longer-form articles that are more detailed, considered and informative than is often typical for coverage of such matters.  Nevertheless, covering the CAC meeting it intemperately offered the assessment that:
  . . .  the evening's presentation confirmed that BPL has crafted a well-thought out and realistic proposal to replace an aging but extremely popular local library at one of Brooklyn's most expensive real estate addresses.
(See: BPL's Johnson Holds Her Own Against Opponents of Heights Library Plan; Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Roasting Company Named as Retail Tenants, by Michael Randazzo on October 8, 2014.)

My comment to the blog article (emphasis supplied):
How can there be any confirmation that the “BPL has crafted a well-thought out and realistic proposal” when the developer said that now that he has been selected he will “start from scratch?” Further, how can the BPL size a drastically shrunken library and then decide what the design will be and ask for public input afterward?
Better cover of the CAC meeting appeared in the Brooklyn Brief: Further Details (and Concerns) Emerge at Heights Library Community Council Meeting, Matthew Taub, October 8, 2014

The Known Unknowns About the Library
Above- The existing two-story Brooklyn Heights Library overlaid on the real estate parcel (with boundaries indicated) on which it sits.  That portion highlighted in brighter orange would be the amount of similar above-ground space the proposed "replacement" library would take up.  Hardly enough to be functional, certainly not functional as the central, destination library it has been since it was built. (More here.)
Just as what luxury tower we will get is a black box perfectly set up for bait-and-switches, we similarly know nothing about the library sale, shrinkage and so-called ”replacement” except for the exact size down to which the library is supposed to be shrunk, 21,000 square feet with 15,000 square feet above ground, down from a total 63,000 square feet of space owned and available to the public. . .

. . .  We don’t know:
    •    What assets we are giving up in terms of the existing library and the associated real estate or the value thereof.  A large portion of what we are giving up has only been identified under the treacherously vague rubric of space `not currently accessible to the public’ with no identification of what actual and specific space is being referred to or even how that space was determined as somehow being `not accessible to the public’  or possible not valuable to the public.  As one can see from the visual, the BPL has inexplicably  managed to conclude that the majority of above-ground space at the Brooklyn Heights Library is space ‘not accessible to the public.’

    •    What the BPL would net (if anything) in terms of available proceeds from the library sale (or in terms of overall value in the exchange).  Might there even be losses?

    •    What the “replacement” library would consist of.  At the CAC meeting Linda Johnson was telling individuals attending: “I hope that you will actually participate in the workshop [to conceptualize, design and configure the replacement library].  It sounds like you have ideas about what the library should contain and we’d really like you to be there.”
I asked at the CAC meeting for details about the first two unknowns bulleted above, but Ms. Johnson and the BPL did not provide that information for which Citizens Defending Libraries (of which I am a co-founder) has made the following outstanding request: Open Letter To Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson.

It says something about the abject imbalance of the BPL’s  public priorities that while we as yet don’t know how big the developer’s luxury tower is, the one thing we do know is exactly how small a space the library would be shrink down to, even before consideration of what we will try to include in that space or carry over  from what is presently publicly owned.
In simple bar graph form- The BPL is proposing to drastically shrink the size of the publicly owned space in the Brooklyn Heights Library from 63,000 feet (blue) to just 21,000 square feet (on left) of which just 15,000 square feet would be above ground.  For more visuals that look more directly at the existing building and property to explore what the public would lose at the site in terms of the benefits it is familiar go HERE.
Just 15,000 square feet of above-ground library space?  The Brooklyn Heights Library is a central destination library, at least the second-most-important library in the borough, serving the downtown, and accessible to all residents of the borough, all residents of the city, in fact, at the borough’s most important mass transit hub for both subways and buses.  The last time the BPL was going to create a new, central, destination library, in 2005 before the current library-shrinking and selling regime was instituted, it planned that a new Visual and Performing Arts Library across from BAM would be 150,000 square feet, ten times the size of what the BPL plans as the above-ground replacement library in the Heights.  That’s extremely telling even if that 2005 plan might have sported some of its own boondoggle aspects.

Absence of physical books in the libraries
A mezzanine of entirely empty bookshelves at the BPL's Williamsburg  Library where patron complain there are too few books and the BPL is also shrinkingthe library by giving away an entire additional floor to the private Spaceworks firm.  (Williamsburg is another library in city Councilman Steve Levin's district.)
Set aside the BPL’s suspicious `not accessible to the public’ space calculations: The BPL’s premises for shrinking down the Brooklyn Heights Library and others, selling off their space, is really based largely on the idea of getting rid of physical books.  Physical books take up real estate the BPL wants to sell.

There are two ways in which the BPL is proposing to banish physical books from the libraries:
    •    The library would no longer endeavor to have robust browsable collections of physical books available to the public visiting libraries.  Instead, a reduced collection of physical books, a “floating collection” would be available elsewhere, upon request.

    •    The library will provide books that are digital (many books simply aren’t digitally available), while forcibly weaning patrons away from what it refers to internally as “old-school type analogue books.”
Doreen Gallo of the DUMBO Neighborhood Association is a member of the Community Advisory Committee, and was particularly eloquent about a number of matters during the evening’s meeting, including how, due to prior vetting, members of the CAC did not represent the community or its viewpoints.  Gallo, herself, is an exception to that general observation.

Ms. Gallo zeroed in on the disappearance of books from the libraries, noting how other libraries loved their books, and complaining about the absence of books from the library.  She cited her visits to the Heights library with her daughter (written about in her open letter to Borough President Eric Adams) where it had taken nine to eleven days to obtain a books that they would originally have expected to find at the library when they went and, most recently, how requested books missing from the library had taken three weeks to obtain.

Ms. Johnson's explanation and information about the books that were not at the libraries was as follows.  The BPL is not maintaining book collections at individual libraries the way it used to.  Instead she explained that it has (a smaller) collection of books that “floats” among libraries (likely being where they were last requested) and that these books could be obtained by request. She said that books not at visited libraries “are somewhere else.”  She said that she thought that “nine to eleven” days seemed like "a long time" for it to take to obtain such books and that three weeks “was unacceptable.”

Then she said that the BPL was “monitoring this closely,” maintaining statistics about how long it took to get books and asked an assistant present (Sheila), “responsible for our neighborhood libraries,”  to say a few words about how long its takes to get requested books.  Her assistant said that for patrons requesting books not at libraries there was “usually a week’s turnaround” involved (that sounds like an `average of seven days’ to me, pretty close to the nine days Johnson said was a "long Time") although books could “sometimes” be available in (emphasis supplied) even two days.”
  
Ms. Johnson, apparently unhappy with the answer her assistant statistic-tracker had given, then stepped in to inaccurately restate the information just provided as follows: “If you reserve a book that’s not in your local library it’s usually between two days and a week to show up in the branch where you want it to be.” (Implying an `average of 4.5 days?’ not 7.)

Of course, no matter how long it takes to fulfill a request, the valuable “browsing experience” is eliminated.

Later on in the meeting Johnson was criticized for not being a librarian and not having a respect for books.  Indeed, Ms. Johnson talking about "crestfallen" librarians and book lovers has often been quoted in the press talking about how she sees the future of the BPL’s libraries as being largely bookless although she was previously advertising that books stored off-site would be available in "24 hours."  When Jim Vogel, representing state senator Velmanette Montgomery, confronted Ms. Johnson about the absence of physical books Ms. Johnson offered somewhat lamely, "we can get very philosophical here about what it means to be a library" and said that she was sorry if people found her alternative vision for the library "mind-boggling."

It's is sad to see the children’s section of the Brooklyn Heights Library with empty shelves as a result of Ms. Johnson work and alternative vision.
Front page article in the New York Times: “reading to a child from an electronic device undercuts the dynamic that drives language development.”
As fate would have it, the next Sunday, New York Times ran a story on its front page about new studies “that reading to a child from an electronic device undercuts the dynamic that drives language development.”  See: New York Times: Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time?, by Douglas Quenqua, October 11, 2014.- That’s basically in line with what a survey of the literature published in Scientific American was showing: The Reading Brain in the Digital Age-  Why Paper Still Beats Screens (Why the Brain Prefers Paper), by Ferris Jabr, November 2013.

Smaller Library to Have Fewer Librarians

Along with less space and far fewer books, the "replacement" library would, according to Ms. Johnson, have fewer librarians and a smaller staff.  Ms. Johnson was asked whether the downsizing of the library would result in a reduction in the staff assigned at that location to serve the public.  It was not surprising to learn from Ms. Johnson that a far smaller library would involve staff being cut.  Ms. Johnson said that she did not know "the exact answer" to the question about how many people would be hired at the smaller library, that “the numbers have yet to be determined," but that her hope was that when built the "new building will be a model of efficiency" with a reduced staff that would not have to compensate for the drawbacks of dealing with a library that was of an "improperly" large size.

Ms. Johnson almost made her less-is-more argument sound credible unless you stop to wonder whether libraries as places of exploration and discovery are really meant to to thrive on pared down efficiency.  Is efficiency really always good and how much is it just another pretextual euphemism in this context?

Community Reaction

Pretty much across the board the proposal to sell and shrink the library was not well received.  The opposition to the sale was not informed in advance that there would be an opportunity for the public to say anything or ask questions.   In addition to direct opposition, concerns were expressed about the paucity of dwindling public assets in the neighborhood, so that perhaps a shrinkage of the library would remove one more asset while PS8, the local public school, was still struggling to keep pace with too little space.  The developer's proposal would benefit Saint Ann's, a private school, but not the public school.  The developer said he hadn't been asked to benefit the public in this way, and that if he were required to do anything more to benefit the public he would have wanted to pay less for the property.
Monday, October 6th, the Saint Ann's faculty was getting another briefing about the benefit to the private school of the library being sold and shrunk
Reactions to the proposed sale and shrinkage were not universally, negative.  There was an interesting scattering of individuals who maybe didn't use the library but had decided to come out that night ready to express their enthusiasm for civicly engaging in the workshops to design its replacement that Ms. Johnson was extolling, a replacement they were somehow already sure would be an improvement.  At least one of these individuals wouldn't give her name afterward to an inquisitive reporter.

Certainly, all of the people that got up to speak at the meeting are real people with real lives, but one wonders what to make of remarks made by some of them.  One father who told a story about how his five daughters, hungry to read books from the library, reached the age of nine and then didn't want to go to the very "unappealing" library anymore so that as their father now, beseeched by them, had to run solitary, derring-do errand runs to fetch books.  Speaking derisively of the library, he bet aloud to those assembled that nobody could name another building designed by its architect.  I was standing behind him and named the Grand Army Plaza Library, also designed by Francis Keally.  The BPL places no information about this up on its site, but Ms. Johnson then wanted to quibble about whether both libraries were designed by the same architect or only by his architectural firm.  When others in the audience contradicted this speaker, saying that the library is, in fact, attractive the defended himself by saying, "not according to the library." 

There is a lot to be learned when we communally share our libraries as common assets.  One fellow commented quizzically about the pronunciation of "Llama" he heard used at the library when "Llama Llama Red Pajama" (drawn and written by by Anna Dewdney) by was being read to children at the library.  Llamas are domesticated animals in south America in countries where Spanish is spoken.  This fellow heard the word Llama being pronounced with its original Spanish pronunciation ([ˈʎama] locally: [ˈʝama] or [ˈʒama]).

Need to "Activate" Clinton Street?

There is probably more to say, but maybe it is sufficient to conclude this report of the CAC meeting with one last thing that may have gone unobserved.

The developer, promoting his development, said that Clinton Street, where the library is located, needed to be “activated,” asserting that this is something he knows because he walked his dog there four days a week and because it was something the Brooklyn Heights Association was calling for.  He said his project would activate Clinton Street by having on either side of the entrance to the luxury residential tower “two small retail spaces”: a coffee shop and a space curated by “Smorgasbord” that would have rotating food vendors.

Several incensed members of the community begged to differ about whether they believed this block of Clinton Street in fact needed to be "activated" or was actually better off the way it is now.  Who knows, but certainly it must be in the developer’s mind that Jonathan Butler of the real estate blog Brownstoner is the Brooklyn Flea, is Smorgasbord, and that promoting Smorgasbord and giving it space could likely improve the press Mr. Kramer and his Hudson Companies development firm get in Brownstoner for all the projects Mr. Kramer wishes to push through in the future . . . .

. . .  Which is to say, that when it comes to real estate development in New York City don't expect people in the industry to miss a trick- Something to remember whenever people in power are proposing that we should sell off our public assets.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Public Loss of Selling And Shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library- How Great Will the Loss Be? Let's Calculate

In simple bar graph form- The BPL is proposing to drastically shrink the size of the publicly owned space in the Brooklyn Heights Library from 63,000 feet (blue) to just 21,000 square feet (on left) of which just 15,000 square feet would be above ground.  More visuals in this article look more directly at the existing building and property to explore what the public would lose at the site in terms of the benefits it is familiar with.
Of course, it was disheartening to learn that Brooklyn Public Library wanted to take another step forward with its proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library by voting to approve and announcing the selection of a developer on Tuesday, September 16th. . . .  Actually, they did it in the reverse: First the BPL announced with a morning press release and press conference that the developer selection was in place and then the BPL board voted in the evening to bless that apparently forgone conclusion. . .   

It was disheartening, but it meant that, for the very first time, key specifics were available to the public, an actual design associated with, very importantly, an identified gross sales price figure that, once paid, would give the developer, whom we now know to be the Hudson Companies, the right to buy and shrink the library. . .  With that information we can, for the first time, calculate the extent to which the public will be losing out in the transaction.

It does appear that the public will be losing out in the transaction big time, that the transaction as this irreplaceable library is sold will almost certainly be a net loss for the public.
Base of the building visual now being abandoned
With the identification of the developer we also get to see a new proposed visual for the base of the building housing the "replacement" library apparently abandoning the visual previously supplied.
New version of the building's base (interestingly squoze down) giving a faux impression of being much like the existing library.  Think it's two above-ground floors?  Probably not.  Appears to extend all the way to Ratner's One Pierrepont building? Don't press your luck.
The new visual seems as if it was meant to suggest that the new library, although vastly shrunken, would look, reassuringly, very much like the existing two-floor library, similarly stretching most of the property line along Cadman Plaza West.  But don't be deceived: Were the above-ground space of the replacement library arranged as two stories and stretched out that length, it would be the equivalent of a thin laminate onto the base of the new luxury tower, a virtual applique for visual effect, a Hollywood set, a classic Potemkin Village maneuver.
The existing Brooklyn Heights Library (to be demolished and lost?) actually two stories tall and running about 200 feet, most of the property facing along Cadman Plaza West.
The proposed "replacement" library would have just 15,000 square feet of above-ground space, a small fraction of the Brooklyn Heights Library's current above-ground space.  It would have another 6,000 feet of space underground.  The existing Brooklyn Heights Library also has underground space, far, far more than that, that holds books and though not currently visited by the public, is otherwise available to be put to what the public decides is the best use.

Stretched out as two floors along the Cadman Plaza West side of the space the existing Library building occupies, one can see what a small fraction of the existing building's current above-ground space that amounts to, significantly less than half.  The library is giving up most of its above-ground space before even considering the great deal of underground space we tend to discount.
Above- The existing two-story Brooklyn Heights Library overlaid on the real estate parcel (with boundaries indicated) on which it sits.  That portion highlighted in brighter orange would be the amount of similar above-ground space the proposed "replacement" library would take up.  Hardly enough to be functional, certainly not functional as the central, destination library it has been since it was built. 
Same as above with a ruler for reference.
The existing Brooklyn Heights Library is essentially a two-story building with substantial underground space.  The is a small amount of square footage on the first floor that has no space over it on the second.  There is also some cantilevered space on the second floor with no corresponding ground floor space under it.  There is also some third floor mechanical space and stairs that leads up to it.

The visuals above show nothing for the underground space just as you can't see the underground space (quite voluminous) of the existing building. 
Aerial view of existing library from Bing maps used in the composite image above.
Boundaries of the city-owned library property that would be handed off to the developer (Hudson) for the luxury tower with the shrunken library tucked in its base.
There is another way of looking at the space, rather than consider what a thin laminate it would make along the length of Cadman Plaza West How much space would be retained measuring from the south where the adult reading room and Business and Career section of the library currently are.  Doing so (see below) allows for an easy way to describe (see below) space being lost.
If you know the library, you can now see it like the equivalent of giving up:
    •    The auditorium
    •    The Computer Center
    •    The Children's library
    •    The second floor conference room
    •    Office areas
    •    The entrance area
    •    The main administration desk
    •    The bathrooms
    •    The elevators
    •    The stair areas
OR, if you were looking at it the previous version with the library space arranged as a "laminate," what was being given up was:
    •    Parts of all the above
    •    Plus substantial portions of:
    •    - The public part of the Business and Career Library, and
    •    - The main public reading room for adults upstairs
The images also make clear how we are giving up the park space sitting area and the landscaped open areas around the library.
Above you see how much of the area alongside the library on Clinton Street and to the immediate north is publicly owned open landscape that, sold, would disappear along with the library.
The same space would disappear, replaced by the base of the luxury tower when the library is shrunk.  See below.
319 feet tall
Although the intended sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library was not publicly announced until 2013, those making decisions at the Brooklyn Public Library have known for years, since 2007 and perhaps as far back as 2005, that it wanted to effectuate such a sale.  For some seemingly inexplicable reason, the charming sitting area and park at north end of the library has been locked and made off-limits to the public for some time.  One possible explanation?: The first thing one wants to do when selling off a public asset is to run that asset into the ground and otherwise alienate it from the public's affection.  Locking up the park helps to do that.
Is this park and sitting area kept locked to ensure that the public won't use it, be attached to it and fight for it when the BPL sells it to a developer that will build on top of it?
Similarly, are there green space areas outside the library that might have been maintained and landscaped with significantly less zeal in recent years (see below) precisely because they want to sell the library off?  This is very typical behavior when institutions plan development they hope the public won't oppose.  NYU has done it and St. Vincent's was doing it before it went bankrupt in the middle of pursuing its contorted real estate machinations.
Maintained with less than appropriate zeal?  What about those visiting the library to check out books on botany?
The BPL recently paid a consultant to tell it that "economic development" should become part of its mission.  If it wants to go into sidelines, why not let those who come to the library wanting to check out books on botany further their interest and learn more by doing some community gardening on the premises.

Would the public be compensated, and adequately so, for the loss of all the library space and the surrounding property?. . .

. . . It is obvious that the BPL knows it has a problem on this score in making representations on two fronts:
    •    It wants to under-represent what is being sold, and
    •    It wants to over-represent what it is getting back in return.

Under-representation of what is being sold

In terms of under-representing what is being sold, the BPL attempted an obvious ploy in its press release announcing the sale.  It pretended to be selling less of the library than it actually is by comparing the total square foot size of the proposed replacement library to the  "square feet in the current branch that are accesible (sic) to the public."  That's hardly an apple-to-apples comparison unless the 100% of the replacement library will be "square feet" that, unlike the locked park area, are "accesible" or "accessible"  to "the public."  Heaven knows how the BPL calculated what it didn't consider "accesible/accessible" to the public.  They obviously cut a lot of space out of their consideration as being accessible to the public.  Did they exclude auditoriums?  Conference rooms where public meetings have been held?  Bathrooms?  Service desk areas?  Stairways?  Elevators?  Staff offices?  Mechanical support areas?  Bookshelf space?  Any area where books or any other library necessaries are stored?  How about entryways, hallways and stairways?

Somehow the library managed to calculate that there are only 28,000 square feet "accessible to the public."  Then the BPL wanted to disregard nearly half of this space because it is space of the Business and Career portion of the library that it "will move to the Central Library, a more central location"  where they are not adding or building any new space to house it.  A "more central location "?:  There are 11 colleges in the central business district of Downtown Brooklyn which by virtue of the central mass transit hub upon which it sits is central not only to all of Brooklyn, but residents of Manhattan as well.  What's more, because there is no new space being created for it at the Grand Army Plaza Library we may more properly think of the Grand Army Plaza Library as being the place where that Business and Career portion of the existing library goes to disappear.


We now know that the gross price the Brooklyn Public Library will receive from the developer for selling and shrinking the library is $52 million.  It is not surprising that this gross price is small given that most of the development rights for the site were transferred out to Forest City Ratner in 1986: Friday, September 20, 2013, Forest City Ratner As The Development Gatekeeper (And Profit taker) Getting The Benefit As Brooklyn Heights Public Library Is Sold.  Ratner still holds some of those development rights unused.

The next problem is that the public doesn't net the already very small gross sales price.  The BPL seems quite aware of how very little is being netted because it is estimating that the new much smaller library will cost $10 million to build, an obviously low-balled figure.  The sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library is closely modeled on the sale of the Donnell Library, a five-story central destination library in Manhattan sold for a pittance, netting the NYPL far less than its value to the public and less than it would have cost to replace it.  It was sold to net the NYPL less than $39 million while the far smaller penthouse apartment in the 50-story building going up on its former site is on the market for $60 million.

Based on the $20 million cost of building the shrunken 28,000 square foot "replacement" Donnell library (still under construction) the price of building the shrunken 21,000 square foot "replacement" Brooklyn Heights Library would come to $15 million.  The developer's proposal for the library even mimics closely the design for the Donnell Library, that in turn mimics a bookless Japanese library and a Prada store in SoHo.  See below: 
Proposal C's Donnell mimicking descending stair-step "flexible" space
Library?- The stair-step "flexible" space design to 'replace' Donnell
Bookless Japanese library as inspiration for Donnell? From A AS Architecture
The developer's proposal- A library?
That $15 million replacement estimate 's is conservative if you believe the cover of the issue of the Real Deal, stacks of which were available for free at Brooklyn Heights Library this week (see below):  "Rising construction prices hit developers."

The Real Deal: "Rising construction prices hit developers." Really?
Netting $15 million out of a $52 million gross purchase price already leaves only $37 million, but to ascertain whether the public is is coming out ahead or behind on this deal one has to tally up all its costs and everything the public is giving up.  So one should actually subtract out the cost of replacing the entire assets being sacrificed to the deal, the cost of replacing the entire Brooklyn Heights Library.  Certainly the costs of replacing just the rest of the above-ground portion of the library would be at least another $20 million.  That would leave just $17 million before netting out any other additional costs. . . It also doesn't consider the loss of the rest of the space that is currently underground.


But what must additionally be netted includes:
    •    The value of the library that the public will miss from the time the existing library is shuttered until the time it is replaced by the new one.  The current plan is to have a very small, 8,000 square foot, temporary library for this interim that will be paid for by the developer (essentially as a self-cancelling increment to the purchase price), but, even by the BPL’s own stingy assessment that the “replacement” library should be 21,000 square feet, that leaves the community 13,000 feet shy of having a library even the size of that shrunken library for the entire construction period.  The BPL is assuring that the “replacement” library will be supplied in no more than 3 ½ years.  In the case of Donnell the “replacement” library was also supposed to be in place in place in no more than 3 ½ years.  Donnell closed in spring of 2008, six months sooner than it was supposed to, and its “replacement” will currently not be in place until at least the end of 2015, 7 ½ years later.  Construction of the replacement has been repeatedly pushed back without consequence to the developer or recompense to the public although the NYPL had the power to insist on the same.  Similarly, government officials have gone out of their way to enforce publicly promulgated and promised time frames for the Atlantic Yards project, something that is virtually impossible to expect when developers have the political upper hand.

    •    All of the transaction costs associated with selling off the library, including all of the professionals, lawyers, real estate experts, etc., associated with the transaction.  This naturally includes the allocable amounts paid to the former Forest City Ratner Vice president who came up with the strategic real estate advice and analysis that the first two libraries the BPL should sell should be this one and another, the Pacific Branch, right next to Forest City Ratner property.  The initial payment authorized to be paid to that professional real estate consultant was just a little under $1 million.  Amounts paid to consultants should also include amounts paid to consultants and lawyers to deal with community opposition to the sale even if no lawsuit si brought by the community and all such expenditures are prophylactic.

    •    The cost, including all allocable staff time, of moving the library twice, first into the very small temporary library (and storage for what won’t fit), and then into the new shrunken library.

    •    The value of the space surrounding the library.

    •    The value of the light and air the library supplies to the neighborhood.  While some may argue for the desirability of the new density to create the luxury condominiums that will tower sufficiently over the surrounding neighborhood to gain a view of the harbor from the upper floors, it should be remembered that the library was built with urban renewal, and that many affordable housing units and commercial properties were demolished with eminent domain on the theory that creation of less density and more light and air was the most desirable thing.

    •    The historic and landmark value of the library.
What might some of these additional losses to the public amount to?

The 13,000 square feet of library missing during construction.   Sephora's is reportedly paying $140 per square foot for its commercial lease down the street, in the Municipal Building, where is is occupying space where the library should likely have been moved (without any ensuing interruption in service) if, with better planning, the library was, indeed to be sold for redevelopment.  As a comparable that might seem high, but a real estate comrade I was talking with pointed out that assembling large amounts of space on the edge of Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn is difficult, so it is arguable that a premium price might be in order.   The 13,000 square feet at $140 would come to $6.37 million for a 3 1/3 year lease.  Arguably, the construction might be completed in less than 3 1/2 years so, with luck, some amount of this could be recouped upon surrendering the lease back to the landlord or some sort of very short sublease, but, because it could not be assured that construction would be completed sooner, it would be necessary to lease the space for the entire 3 1/3 years.  There is also another countervailing risk: That rather than the promised 3 1/3 years the actual expense might involve something more like the 7 ½ years it's, so far, taking to replace Donnell.

Total transaction costs.   We know that the initial payment to the Forest City Ratner Vice President was close to $1 million.  We know that there are many very highly-priced consultants already engaged by the BPL in connection with the library sales, including Booz and Co.  We know that high-priced legal talent is expensive.  We know that the transaction here is not just a sale, it is also negotiation for new space with plans to build.  Would we be conservatively underestimating to expect that all transaction costs would come to at least 10%, or another $5.2 million?

The cost of two moves.  Have you ever moved a business?  Experienced the distractions and time it took for staff to plan and figure out where everything is going to go and how it is going to go and be kept track of? The costs are not to be discounted and there are more outside professionals to pay.

The value of the space surrounding the library.  There are surely those who don't value green spaces around a dense and growing neighborhood. 

Without arguing that point we will simply note how the lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” acknowledge a world where some people not appreciating the trees and trees and green that they've got act accordingly to replace them with what Ms. Mitchell’s song makes clear that, she at least, values less, paved parking spaces:
They took all the trees
Put 'em in a tree museum *
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
Rather than argue the point of how valuable the green may or may not be to the public we'll use Ms. Mitchell’s song as a basis to simplify things by valuing the space around the library at what Ms. Mitchell values less: parking spaces.  In fact, some of the space around the library is now currently used for parking.
Sunday, the library sadly closed, a lone care pulls in to take advantage of the space
The space around the library might, if used entirely for parking, provide maybe about nineteen parking spaces.  See below:
What are parking spaces worth in New York City?  There are actual market figures on this.

In the summer of 2007 parking spaces were reported to be worth almost a quarter of a million dollars, $225,000.  Prices may have gone up with the New York Times reporting a parking space purchase of "$250,000 a tire" or $1 million.  See: Buy Condo, Then Add Parking Spot for $1 Million, by Michelle Higgins September 9, 2014. 

To be fair, this was one transaction "at Broome and Crosby Streets, itself the former site of a parking lot" and the Times supplied other figures, another Manhattan transaction where spaces were listed for a half million and a Boston space for $560,000 and a London space for $565,859.  It reports that the past year the average price throughout Manhattan has been $136,052.

Nineteen parking spaces at that average Manhattan price would come to about $2.6 million, but if it is assumed that the border of Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn is a relatively premium neighborhood and that the value of a parking space, albeit outdoors, ought to be around $260,000, then the value of nineteen spaces ought to come to around $4.94 million.  Of course we don't know if this would make Joni Mitchell happy.

319 feet tall- But how much taller?
The value of the light and air the library supplies to the neighborhood.   We probably have already arrived at an appreciable net negative, the public suffering a loss if this proposed transaction is implemented, without attributing any further additional loss to the light and air that will be sacrificed if a luxury tower is built, but it is difficult to calculate the value of lost light and air because no version of any of the possible proposed developments showed a project with all the development rights that are available being used.  See: Monday, December 16, 2013, Tall Stories- Buildings Proposed To Shrink The Brooklyn Heights Library: Brooklyn Public Library Publishes Seven Luxury Building Proposals To Shrink Away Brooklyn Heights Library.
The value of light and air?
The historic and landmark value of the library.  The current library is at least the second most important library in the BPL system, one that everybody in the borough knows, and the building was designed by by Francis Keally, the same man who designed the Grand Army Plaza Library, the other Brooklyn library that almost everybody knows.  Keally was a former president of the once-venerable Municipal Arts Society and a head of the New York chapter of the AIA.  One might consider how nice it is that these two well-designed buildings go together providing stature and thematic linkage.
Francis Keally's Brooklyn Heights design

Francis Keally's Grand Army Plaza design
Repairs?  Are we forgetting something?  Aren't there calculations that say that the current library needs repair, perhaps $9 million?  Should these amounts be treated be weighed in favor of  shrinking the library since the replacement library would theoretically not need repair when built?  The BPL would argue this to be the case, but it should only be done if you believe the BPL's inflated estimates and to do so you would have to disregard that the BPL's own board meeting minutes indicate that the estimates were worked on by a former Forest City Ratner Vice President specifically with the goal that they become a convincing argument to sell the library.  The BPL's calculations for the Brooklyn Heights library are clearly intentionally inflated.

The BPL has been playing with its figures respecting the capital repairs it says it needs in its system's and which it argues are a reason for selling and shrinking libraries.  Often it rounds up the figure stated for the public to $300 million in what it will say are "necessary repairs."  Other times, pinned down to be more specific, they BPL gives a lower figure, $280 million and uses the weasel words "unmet repairs" allowing for more exaggeration.  In any event, these figures didn't exist at all until the BPL launched its plans for real estate deals and started building them up with deferrals while scouting for additional expenses to add into the its pretextual mix.
The developer's proposal as summarized in the materials previously furnished by the BPL about the proposals it received

114 "Affordable Housing" Units?  What about the announcement that the developer will also build "114 off-site affordable housing units" somewhere else within the boundaries of Brooklyn Community Board 2, perhaps by the Brooklyn Navy Yard.   That involves a whole other set of calculations.  Those units will be subsidized with government funds that could be used for other "affordable housing" and purposes other than dismantling a library that all Brooklynites need and evicting them from an increasingly wealthy and exclusive Downtown.

"Reaction" of Brooklyn Heights Association

The Brooklyn Heights Association's behavior respecting the issue of the library has been very unbecoming.  Theoretically the protector of the neighborhood it has, instead, explicitly condoned the sale and shrinkage of the library, giving the BPL cover to sell it off.  The BHA has now “reacted” specifically to this proposal that has been before it since the beginning of last December.  Its reaction at this late date bespeaks a certain amount of play-acting as they express “concern and cautious optimism.”  The expression of “concern” is offered seemingly to certify that they are looking out for the community (which few at this point believe) and the “cautious optimism” comes as their first step toward further promotion of the sale.   See: BHA Speaks Out on Brooklyn Heights Library with "Concern and Cautious Optimism", By Homer Fink on October 4, 2014 and OPINION: BHA responds to Heights Library redevelopment plan, From the Brooklyn Heights Association's website

The BHA’s “reaction” is mostly a very mild stab at an aesthetic critique with a pretext that there is an open process going on about issues (i.e. they hoped “the developers and BPL trustees will take the time to re-evaluate their design, and engage in an open process with the broader library”):
. . . what we are seeing is a clunky condominium sitting atop generic retail space. We want to see a distinctive and welcoming public building that provides a graceful transition from the civic buildings on Cadman Plaza to the residences of Brooklyn Heights — a library that is a visual gateway to the neighborhood.
The two most substantive aspects of the BHA’s reaction are both dangerously clumsy on their part.
How far away from Brooklyn Heights and the downtown area might the "affordable" units be built?  The boundaries of Brooklyn's Community Board 2 range far.
They unfortunately seem a little too pleased that the affordable units for lower income tenants will not be in the building and thus likely outside of the neighborhood as well:
The off-site affordable housing, which must be within Community District 2 boundaries, will allow for a less bulky building on this constricted site.
The second clumsily taken substantive position?: Like the proverbial broken clock that manages occasionally to be right the BHA observes:
The decision to assign considerable square footage to an exclusive private school gymnasium does not reflect the inclusive mission of our public library system.
The BHA is right that it should not be within the mission of the library to benefit a private school by selling and shrinking libraries just as it should not be within the mission of the library system to do so to benefit a private developer, both of which are happening here.  More simply, it should not be the mission of the library to be engaged in “economic development” notwithstanding the fact that the library hired a consultant from Philadelphia to tell it that its mission should be expanded to include “economic development” in which case there could be odd arguments made for a library system to sell and shrink libraries and eliminate books and librarians.

The BHA is wrong, however, in its apparent background supposition that the gymnasium for the Saint Ann’s School was a benefit that the city or the BPL negotiated to exchange the library for, with the thought that it might now be possible to figuratively come back with receipt in hand to exchange the gymnasium for something else:
Moreover, the project can and should address broader community priorities. . . . Community or public school space is called for in lieu of a private school gym.
It might be pure doltishness on the BHA’s part to think the library was traded for a gymnasium, or perhaps this is a cynical ploy to make it look like the BHA is negotiating for something it knows it won’t obtain.  The fact is that Saint Ann’s is getting a gymnasium isn't because the city or the BPL negotiated for that. Saint Ann’s is getting a gymnasium because it is selling its development rights by joining in the same zoning lot with Forest City Ratner and library property.  By selling and shrinking the library the city makes it possible for Saint Ann’s to negotiate that benefit for itself, but Saint Ann’s is not going to sell its privately owned development rights for “community or public school space.”   Does the BHA really understand so little about this transaction that is affecting the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood so significantly?

More About Private School Saint Ann’s Interest in the Transaction
 
What is true is that private benefit that Saint Ann’s is getting by virtue of this transaction means that the private school is likely to push for the public library to be sold and shrunk just as the private condominium developer undoubtedly wants the same thing to happen.  The question is whether they will have the upper hand when dealing with our public officials, because this transaction can only happen if those public officials, including our City Council and Mayor de Blasio, allow it to proceed. 
Monday afternoon at 4:30 the Saint Ann’s faculty was treated to an hour-long PowerPoint presentation explaining how the library sale would benefit Saint Ann’s.
At the top right of the PowerPoint, the library property labeled as the BPL's, with arrows indicating what is going to be switched around where.
Getting involved in these real estate transactions apparently has Saint Ann's thinking in bigger and broader terms with other interrelated real estate projects and renovations planned as funds flow in.  During the PowerPoint presentation a pie chart was shown of some of the funds involved (below).  What exactly is Saint Ann’s thinking?  Maybe they'll say if asked.
   

The entire block, Ratner Property highlighted, showing what, with Ratner cooperation, could be treated as a single merged zoning lot to transfer development rights from Saint Ann's School to the library site
Above, Saint Ann School building with development rights that are not yet utilized.  Ratner property is in the background, literally (and metaphorically?)
Perhaps the best way to end this article is with a gallery of more pictures so that people will better understand (see below) what stands to be lost if the Brooklyn Heights library is sold and shrunk.  Or maybe it would be best to note that Citizens Defending Libraries (of which I am a co-founder) has launched a Citizens Audit and Investigation of the details concerning the Brooklyn Public Library's secretive and strange pursuit, going back to around 2005, of converting all of Brooklyn's libraries into real estate transactions that will shrink them diminishing the respect for and availability books and librarians and the core missions of a library system.  See (last accessed 10/7/2014): Press Release: Citizens Audit and Investigation of Brooklyn Public Library- FOIL Requests and PHOTO & VIDEO GALLERY: September 16, 2014 Rally Outside BPL Trustees Meeting- BPL Trustees Vote To Hand Off Brooklyn Heights Library To Hudson Co. As Developer.
In essence, the proposal is to shrink the library to the equivalent size of just two rooms like this Business and Career Library space from which would have to be subtracted all entryway, administrative, bathroom, stairway and elevator space.
 
Adult reading room on the second floor over the Business and Career section of the library.
Is the public likely to feel more privileged with second floors window to look out as it has now rather than any additional space being stuck in the basement?
Computer room- Excess space?

The normally full children's room, right before closing, on a day just after the Library has again changed its hours ensuring confusion about when it's open and what routines will work when you plan your visits

Useless hallway space?  Where you can wait for an elevator or congregate waiting for friends, take in an exhibit in this space that graciously transitions from one room to another, buffering sound . . .
I am presently missing pictures that show the frequently used auditorium in its full glory, but this picture from the Brooklyn Eagle is from the night that the auditorium was used to announce this as the first public disclosure of plans to sell and shrink a Brooklyn public library.  The community was not happy.  (The auditorium was used for primary voting this last election.)
Here, also from the Brooklyn Eagle, a photograph of Deborah Hallen using the auditorium to ceremonially display for the record a proclamation by Borough President Marty Markowitz honoring the work of the “Friends of Brooklyn Heights Branch Library" which was then , and now, a lead collaborator in pushing forward the proposed sale and shrinkage of the library.