Monday, May 27, 2013

More Thoughts On Valuation And What The NYPL Should Have Received As Recompense For The Public When It Sold The Donnell Library

Two November 7, 2007 NY Times stories about real estate deals that turned out to be connected

On January 12, 2007 “the most expensive building sale in U.S. history” closed: Tishman Speyer’s $1.8 billion sale of 666 Fifth Avenue to the Kushner Companies (owned by Jared Kushner, who also owns the New York Observer.)  My last Noticing New York article included information about how this related to another real estate transaction that also occurred in 2007 (through sale of rights to build a bigger building) just a few doors down, the New York Public Library’s sale of the five-story Donnell library, newly renovated and in excellent condition with additional basement space to boot, for a net of $39 million.

This small net to the NYPL is after taking into consideration of its plans to get back a less than one-third size underground `replacement’ library by perhaps 2015, the plans for which were thoroughly discussed in that article.  The basement library space will be at the bottom of the 50-story luxury hotel and condominium building going up at the site of the former Donnell.  See: Friday, May 24, 2013, Previews Of The Proposed New Donnell Library: The NYPL Unveils Its Version Of The “Silk Purse” Libraries It Envisions For Our Future.

Since there was newly turned up information in that last article I wrote I thought it would be worthwhile to come back and reconsider the amount that the NYPL sold Donnell for, in light of that information.  How good or bad a deal did the NYPL structure for the public?

Based On Other 2007 Transaction For Nearby Property Did NYPL Get Less Than One-Third Of What Donnell Was Worth To The Public?

First off, 666 Fifth Avenue on the same block and just down the street from Donnell according to the Real Deal was 1.45 million square feet so its purchase price of $1.8 billion comes out to $1,241.38 per square foot.

If the recently renovated Donnell was a valuable asset and worth keeping for the public (as I and many others believe it was), then by the measure of $1,241.38 per square foot for real estate in that area the 97,000 square foot, Donnell might have been worth $120,413,793 to the public, more than three times the $39,000,000 that was netted for the library system when the NYPL sold it.

But maybe that isn’t fair: The $1.8 billion that was paid for 666 Fifth Avenue was reported to be too high a price, the result of reckless underwriting according to the New York Times.  The office rents didn’t fully support the value paid (rents covering only 0.65 percent of the debt service on the loan that was put together by Barclays).  So perhaps the estimated value of the public keeping Donnell if done through the kind of calculation above should be adjusted downward a bit.  A bit maybe, but in the relative scheme of things not by all that much: Read on.

Did somebody know when 666 was bought that there was other potential value in the building?  We will momentarily get to what the sale of rights to the new Donnell site owners brought in to the 666 Fifth owners. 

November 7, 2007: Two Real Estate Transactions Written About In the Times With Link That Public Doesn’t Realize
Again, the two November 7, 2007 NY Times stories about real estate deals that turned out to be connected
In coincidence that stands out as strangely interesting the New York Times ran an article describing what a very bad deal the purchase of 666 Fifth Avenue was on November 7, 2007, the very same day that the Times first reported the surprising news that the Donnell had been sold.  At the time, nobody (at least nobody on the outside) knew that the two deals would wind up being related when the 666 Fifth owners would sell the owners of the new Donnell site the right to build taller at that site.

    •    Financial Ground Has Shifted Under a Record Deal, by Terry Pristin, November 7, 2007.

    •    New York Public Library’s Donnell Branch to Share Space With Hotel, by Robin  Pogrebin, November 7, 2007
Foreseeable Future: Doom and Gloom?

Maybe the Times description of what a bad deal the record-setting 666 Fifth avenue transaction was helped put aside the question of whether recent prices for real estate in the neighborhood were significantly better than what the NYPL was being paid for Donnell.  The Times November 7th doom and gloom article about the 666 Fifth deal (“666 Fifth `was the poster child for what was not right in the underwriting,’ said J. Larry Duggins, an executive managing director of the Centerline Capital Group”) toys intriguingly with some (mitigated) foreboding about the then ongoing real estate bubble that was, in fact, going to burst the following year (before NYC real estate prices again resumed climbing):
Many people in real estate worry that the subprime mortgage debacle could lead to sizable layoffs in the financial services industry, emptying a lot of office space in Manhattan and causing rents to fall. But Mr. Konsker said a number of tenants outside that industry are currently looking for space. And so far, although the pace of leasing has slowed, there is no evidence that asking rents have declined.
At this month’s May 8th NYPL trustees meeting NYPL president Anthony Marx apologized for only one aspect to the Donnell sale, the long delay in the provision of a `replacement’ library (now projected to be complete in 2015) that was originally supposed to be provided in just three and a half years (after 2008), telling the trustees about the delay:
Of course none of us could foresee that the economy would change and change the schedule of this. . .
NYPL Offers Reasons To Sell Donnell

The Times November 7th article about the sale of Donnell does not mention any thoughts about how good or bad the real estate market was at the time of the announced sale or whether the NYPL was getting a good price for the Donnell.  All it said about the NYPL's decision was:
    . .  said it had little choice because the branch, built in 1955, was in dire need of renovations that the system could ill afford.

    * * * *

The library says Donnell is in serious need of repairs, with the oldest elevator of any branch in the system and outdated air-conditioning, heating and electrical systems. “It’s not in great shape, to say the least,” Mr. LeClerc said, adding that the library had to have pieces specially made to repair the old-fashioned air-conditioning system.
The assessments above are subject to question given that there was a history of recent and substantial Donnell renovations and the reflexive habit that library officials have of conjuring up extraordinary air conditioning repair costs whenever they want to sell real estate.

The Times November 7th report on the sale was also misleading in not sufficiently indicating by how much the $59 million gross sale price would be substantially reduced (by $20 million) to build a `replacement’ library, thus allowing the reader to infer a greater likely benefit for the NYPL:
“We looked into the opportunity to capitalize on the asset itself, build a gorgeous new state-of-the-art collection and have a whole lot of money left over for other branches,” said Paul LeClerc, president of the New York Public Library. (Proceeds from the sale are to go toward other branches’ building needs.)
Profits Make 666 Fifth Avenue Purchase A Good Deal After All?

Was the 666 Fifth deal realy not a good one?  By January 17, 2012, Terry Pristin, the New York Times reporter who had reported November 7th 2007, on the 666 Fifth financial woes was reporting that, with a restructuring that involved the entrance of Vornado realty (Bloomberg LP’s landlord), and the sale of the additional building rights to the Donnell site, the purchase had weathered the financial crisis and was again on solid footing.  See: Surviving a Big Risk on Fifth Avenue.

Building ownership value was unlocked by buying out low rent leases and until the restructuring was put in place, reserves that had been set up in advance were drawn upon covering the deficient cash flow.  Several months later The Real Deal ran an article (August 01, 2012) with calculations of how much everybody in the real estate industry made from 666 Fifth Avenue deal: Tallying who won at 666 Fifth Avenue- Ranking winners, losers in wake of Vornado $707 million purchase of the trophy tower's retail condo, by Adam Pincus.
    •    Kushner Companies: Estimated profits of about $100 to $120 million on the retail side offset by a “loss” or infusion of new equity on the office rent side of more than $200 million- So that amounts to at least $80 million as an additional forced investment of capital.  The Real Deal does not specifically mention whether its calculations took into account Kushner’s sale of rights to the Donnell owners to build extra floors which, according to the Times brought in at least $30 million, potentially reducing that aforementioned $80 million figure for the infusion of capital.

    •    Carlyle Group (partnering with Crown Acquisitions): Estimated profits of $200 to $230 million on retail condominiums within the complex.

    •    Crown Acquisitions: Estimated profits of $25 to $50 million

    •    Lenders: Estimated interest payments of $113 million

    •    Brokers: Estimated $7.5 million in commissions on the retail side.

    •    Retail tenants (Brooks Brothers, Hickey Freeman and the NBA Store): Estimated $74.9 million for lease buyouts
Missing from the calculation is what Tishman Speyer (and other parties) made in the original sale when selling the building for the high $1.8 billion price: According to the Times the building was sold for “more than three times what the building fetched in 2000.”  

Note- In writing about Mayor Bloomberg’s business conflicts of interest Wayne Barrett has written about the mayor’s relationship with Tishman Speyer: Bloomberg Keeps His Billions Separate From His Mayoral Obligations? Yeah, Right!, by Wayne Barrett, Tuesday, Sep 1 2009

Donnell Bid Process And Sale

Following the Donnell sale through to an actual real estate closing is a bit of a saga.  The November 2007 sale was to Orient-Express Hotels but they ultimately transferred their right to buy before closing.  NYPL Chief Operating Officer described the initial sale to Orient-Express as a “private transaction” that `wound up' as a competitive process, but explained that Orient-Express had “an almost unique interest” in the property because they owned the 21 Club restaurant on an adjacent 52nd Street lot, which would mean they could use that restaurant’s kitchen to build a hotel.  Said Mr. Offensend:
We reached out. . . or we didn’t reach out, but our financial adviser reached out to several other parties who we thought might have specific reasons . . . so there were quite a number of developers in the development community who were contacted to see if they wanted to compete with this process and we did end up with a competitive process.
The closing of the sale of Donnell was July 27, 2011 to Tribeca Associates and Starwood Capital, who bought the real estate contract from Orient-Express and closed, according to Offensend, with the NYPL’s approval.

Based On Information About “Air Rights” Transactions, Was Donnell Sold For Many Millions Below Its Value?  Perhaps Hundreds Of Millions Less?

The Tribecca Associates’ website says that “air rights” comprised 50,000 square feet, or about 15%, of the building rights (50,000 out of 340,000 square feet).
In 2011, Tribeca Associates LLC, in partnership with an institutional partner, acquired 20 West 53rd Street from the New York Public Library System, as well as approximately 50,000 square feet of air rights and a light and air easement to develop this 340,000 square foot mixed-use project.

The Partnership intends to develop a landmark 120 key, 5-star hotel and approximately 130,000 square feet of luxury residential condominium units that will feature hotel amenities.

With a Plaza District location directly across from the MoMA, this building will feature unrivaled access to the city’s finest shopping, dining, cultural venues and will be in the heart of the midtown office market.
Are the 50,000 square feet of “air rights” the rights purchased (15% of the buildable rights) from the 666 Fifth owner? . . . . The original deal with Orient-Express was described in the Times in November 7, 2007 as a deal to build an 11-story hotel (making the low price paid to the NYPL perhaps a trifle less startling) but the building now going up is described in the Daily News as 50 stories and sometimes reported elsewhere as being 45 stories.  That hardly accounts for the difference between 11 stories and 50 or 45.

The 50,000 square feet of “air rights” probably includes, but is not exclusively comprised of, the rights purchased from the 666 Fifth owner.  March 6, 2012 The Real Deal reported on the acquisition “air rights” by Starwood Capital and Tribeca Associates to go to 45 stories: $30.825 million for air rights from the owners of 666 Fifth Avenue (just slightly over the figure mentioned in the Times), and $16.6 million for air rights from Orient-Express from the 21 Club (probably dating back to the July 2011 closing).  See: Starwood, Tribeca move forward with Midtown condo and hotel.

At $47.425 million for 50,000 square feet, that would come to $948.5 per square air rights foot, that would seem to be high for the market.  If the 50,000 feet is just what was bought from the 666 Fifth owner (treating the $16.6 million acquisition from Orient-Express as part of the overall land cost) per square air rights foot would price at $616.5 probably close to the market.  If the 50,000 feet is what was bought from Orient-Express per square air rights foot would price at $332, which might be considered rather low for the market across from MoMA.

Some comparison figures:
    •    $600/square foot at 43 East 60th Street (15 CPW Developers Pay Record Price for UES Air Rights, Tuesday, February 26, 2013, by Sara Polsky)

    •     $400 and $500 a square foot in 2007- "Two years ago [2007], demand for air rights was, well, through the roof. `For residential use at the peak of the market, [air rights] were between $400 and $500 a square foot,' said Stuart Siegel, executive managing director at commercial real estate firm Grubb & Ellis." (Air rights, once coveted, plummet in value, September 01, 2009, By Katherine Dykstra)

    •    $450 a square foot- “in recent years the norm in prime neighborhoods has crept toward $450 a square foot” ( The Great Air Race, by Robin Finn, February 22, 2013)

    •    $500 a square foot - 508 W. 20th St., next to the High Line - very close in time to the announced purchase of rights for the Donnell site. (The $ky’s the limit High Line air rights fetch $500/sq. ft., by Annie Karni, March 4, 2012)

    •    $450 to $550 per square foot- Churches in the vicinity of Donnell. Houses of the holy- (A look at the religious institutions lobbying to get inside the pearly gates of a rezoned Midtown East and cash in on air rights — and their spiritual counterparts who’ve already sealed deals around NYC, by Hiten Samtani, March 01, 20130)

    •    $430 per square foot - Park Avenue and East 60th Street in 2005.  ($430 a Square Foot, for Air? Only in New York Real Estate, by Charles V. Bagli, November 30, 2005.)
I am reviewing these figure in order to back into the buildable rights value of the Donnell site prior to addition of the air rights.
    •    If the very high $948.5 per square air rights foot was paid for 50,000 feet of air rights then the NYPL sold the owners the remaining balance of 290,000 buildable square feet.  If  those square feet are multiplied by $948.5 per square foot figure then perhaps the NYPL should have sold Donnell for $275.07 million.

    •    If the more probable $616.5 per square air rights foot was paid for 50,000 feet of air rights from the 666 Fifth owner, then maybe another 26,764 square feet in air rights would be attributable to the $16.6 million Orient-Express transaction, leaving the NYPL with 263,236 buildable square feet to sell, which at that price would sell for $162 million.

    •     If the very, very low $332 per square air rights foot was paid for 50,000 feet of air rights from the Orient-Express, then maybe another 92,846 in square feet was bought from the 666 Fifth owner leaving the NYPL with 197,154 square feet to sell which, at that very low price, would have sold for $65.46 million.  But, setting aside the concept of air rights to simplify this calculation, The Real Deal in October of 2007, around the time of the NYPL’s Donnell deal, was pricing real estate in Manhattan at a much higher buildable square foot price: $650 (nearby 62nd Street and CPW)  $1,050 (12-story prewar 823 Park Avenue at 75th Street) $400 (from 60th Street to 86th Street, between First and Lexington Avenues).  See: Developers see land prices jump, October 17, 2007,by Juliette Fairley.  So even if we went down conservatively to a price of $450 per square buildable foot based on these figures that would mean that 197,154 buildable square feet should have garnered the NYPL at least $88.7193 million.
NYPL Transaction of a Kindred Spirit

Prior to the 2007 Donnell deal, the NYPL was criticized for lack of “transparency” and failing to structure a proper bid process to sell off  NYPL property of special value to the New York City public.  Back in 2005 this transaction was also during the tenure of COO David Offensend, who started at the NYPL in 2004.   The criticism was that there was “a hasty and secretive process” suggestive of the fact that “the people in charge of the sale knew perfectly well” there something particularly unusual going on.  The NYPL as seller was represented by a broker who had a conflict of interest relationship since it was also an adviser to the buyer and, in another conflict of interest, an adviser to the NYPL was both an adviser to the seller and connected with those who made the failed competing bid.  No matter, the “swiftly organized” “closed bid” was clearly set up to favor the particular wealthy buyer in play.

The NYPL wound up garnering only $35 million for the property in question, $4 million less than the NYPL netted through its sale of the Donnell.  In this case the property in question wasn’t real estate but a painting: “Asher B. Durand's `Kindred Spirits,’ one of the great Hudson River School landscapes, a civic treasure.”

The criticism came from various quarters but the criticism quoted above and published in the New York Times came from Michael Kimmelman, who has since become the Times architectural critic and is also a strong critic of the NYPL’s Central Library Plan, essentially a convoluted real estate deal with strong similarities to the Donnell transaction in how it shortchanges the public.  See: Critic's Notebook: Civic Treasure: A Need for Transparency, Not Secrecy, by Michael Kimmelman, May 18, 2005 and Critic’s Notebook- In Renderings for a Library Landmark, Stacks of Questions, by Michael Kimmelman, January 29, 2013.

Kimmelman’s 2005 statements with respect to the sale of Durand’s “Kindred Spirits” readily apply to the Donnell and Central Library Plan real estate deals:
It's time for transparency. Increasingly, we demand it from government, the media and Wall Street, in response to dwindling public faith. The same should apply to libraries and museums, which also regularly test our trust.
Former NYS Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz
Kimmelman goes on to invoke the spirit of former New York State Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz who, as Kimmelman points out, “stepped in” in the early 1970's when the Metropolitan Museum's private sale of works by van Gogh and Henri Rousseau and others caused a scandal:
Public institutions must avoid even the appearance of impropriety when selling art. That's why the New York attorney general in the 70's, Louis Lefkowitz, responding to the ruckus over the Met's private sale of pictures, recommended that museums sell through open (not closed-bid) public auctions. That still makes sense. Public auctions or some other public process, obligatorily announced loudly, widely and well beforehand, plus the chance for local museums to match prices after a sale, would mean greater visibility and precious time to gain public faith.
The reason Lefkowitz stepped in when he did is because the New York State Attorney General is charged with overseeing and ensuring proper conduct of the state’s charitable institutions like libraries and museums.  Kimmelman’s reference to Lefkowitz may be viewed as an invitation to the Attorney General of the time to step in and investigate the sale of the Durand painting.  Had that happened perhaps many further ensuing events like Donnell might also have been halted.
Former NYS Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in Frontline documentary “The Untouchables” about the impunity of NYC financial titans when it comes to misconduct  
The New York State Attorney General who did not swing into action in May of 2005 was Eliot Spitzer, the “Sheriff of Wall Street,” then running for governor and now, after his early exit from the governorship, is a talking head in such documentaries as Frontline’s “The Untouchables” where by narrating to prove he knows how to investigate (“I’ve always believed that you start at the bottom up”) he helps prove that a conscious lack of investigation is currently treating big fish on Wall Street as being immune from prosecution for fraud.  Although there is a fair amount of overlap between some of those involved in the Wall Street financial crisis and those involved in the real estate industry, Spitzer, form a real estate family himself, never took on New York City’s real estate industry.
Andrew Cuomo was NYS Attorney General when the Donnell sale unfolded
 The New York State Attorney General who was in office when Donnell was unfolding in the fall of 2007 was Andrew Cuomo, now the Governor of New York.  The current New York State Attorney General who could still be looking into what happened when Donnell was sold, especially as it pertains to the currently unfolding Central Library Plan real estate deals and the fact that NYPL President Marx and COO Offensend apparently view the Donnell deal as model for what is to be done with library real estate throughout the system, is Eric Schneiderman who took office January 1, 2011.
Side Note: Lest there be some confusion for those not remembering the sequence of things, Kimmelman’s Durant piece includes the following:
The Metropolitan Transit Authority recently auctioned off development rights over the Hudson rail yards on the West Side. It accepted what was not necessarily the highest bid, saying the lower bid was in the public's interest.
The bid being discussed goes back to the time the Bloomberg administration was trying to push through the West Side Stadium for the Jets.  It was not the 2007 bidding process which Tishman Speyer initially won in March of 2008 and then failed to follow through on (so that the Yards wound up going to the Related Companies.)
How Many Hundreds of Millions More Keeping The Donnell Would Have Been Worth To The Public, Calculating Based On The Value Of What is Being Put Up In Its Place

Even had the NYPL sold Donnell for a figure like $89 million (the conservative low figure calculated above based on buildable rights), thereby netting on the order of only $69 million after building a much smaller replacement library, the question is whether it would have been a suitable deal in terms of the assets the library system was thereby giving up with such shrinkage and retrenchment in the face of city growth.

We can also look at the value of assets at that address in terms of the value on what is being built to replace the Donnell on its former site.  The 7,381 square foot penthouse in the building going up there is being offered for $60 million: Cut Glass: Baccarat Wants $60 M. For Its Crystal Penthouse, by Stephen Jacob Smith, Feb 26, 2013.  That’s a value of $8,129 a square foot.  According to that measure the old Donnell would have been worth about $789 million to the public.

It is, of course, much fairer to look at the average total asking price for the building’s 61 condominiums occupying a total of 130,000 square feet: $523 million, about $4,023 per square foot, making the Donnell’s 97,000 square feet worth about $390 million to the public.

No matter which way you cut it, the NYPL’s sale of Donnell gave up a valuable, nearly irreplaceable asset belonging to the public.  In its place will stand a building with 61 condominiums occupying a total of 130,000 square feet valued at $523 million and a luxury hotel with maybe 151 rooms in the remaining 210,000 square feet, which all totaled will be worth perhaps to $1.4 billion to its owners.   . ..

. . .  This is why New York's citizens are having such difficulty fending off the real estate industry to protect our publicly owned property.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Previews Of The Proposed New Donnell Library: The NYPL Unveils Its Version Of The “Silk Purse” Libraries It Envisions For Our Future

NYPL COO David G. Offensend presenting plans for `replacement' Donnell Library at Community Board 5 meeting
Architectural plans for what they are calling the `replacement’ for the Donnell Library are out and they are likely to shock you. See: A Place to Hang Out (Read, Too), by Robin Pogrebin, May 6, 2013 and New York Public Library unveils designs for new $20M branch on W. 53rd Street, by Ginger Adam Otis, May 7, 2013.
The plans, giving short shrift to the public, are a pathetic joke: Less than one-third the size of the original Donnell, the plans depict what is basically a bleacher-like staircase descending underground oriented to a street level window to disguise the fact that the bulk of everything is subterranean.

Gone is the new beautifully large auditorium, the new state of the art media center, the new teen center.  The collections of the old Donnell are disbursed and disrupted.

The NYPL sold most of its rights and space in a building on 53rd Street in Manhattan across from MOMA between 5th and 6th Avenues for an undeniable pittance.  Just how little the NYPL got was confirmed with exact figures at the time these plans were unveiled.  The NYPL sold a mid-Manhattan building that was five stories above ground with a new huge auditorium below ground netting only $39 million.   The NYPL promises that the `replacement’ Donnell will be constructed without incurring cost overruns but if there are cost overruns then that net amount will become an even smaller figure.  Another cost to the public: As a result of the sale for shrinkage of Donnell the public is enduring a shutdown of all the library services from 2008, a shutdown that will continue to at least 2015.
A cutaway view removing the actual walls and viewing things from far away mitigates the possibility that the two below-grade levels might seem claustrophobic, cramped or subterranean and troglodyte   
The NYPL gave all that was the old Donnell up for just $39 million while just the penthouse in the building now going up at that site is selling for over $60 million.  Would anyone care to guess how many multiples of these figures it would cost to replicate the old Donnell?

The confirmation of how little the NYPL was getting came this month from NYPL Chief Operating Officer David Offensend who presided over the structuring of the sell-off of Donnell in 2007.  Noticing New York previously noted The Real Deal report to the real estate industry that the sale of the Donnell property to Tribeca Associates and Starwood Capital had closed for $67.4 million.  That may be an accurate figure for what the buyers paid to get the property transferred over to them from Orient-Express Hotels, the company that originally signed the contract to with the NYPL in 2007 to purchase Donnell, but Offensend confirmed that the NYPL’s gross was only $59 million.  Offensend also confirmed that the one-third size basement replacement library was costing the NYPL $20 million to build, thus resulting in the netting of only $39 million.    

According to what Mr. Offensend told the New York Times in March of 2011 the final deal involving the transfer of the original contract needed the NYPL’s approval to go forward.  The NYPL could therefore have reconsidered and opted out of the transaction* or at least demanded a better recompense as late as 2011.  But it didn’t.
(* There was plenty of reason to do so.  In 2009 community residents were requesting the City Council to compel the library's reopening.)
The week the Donnell 'replacement' plans were unveiled I was at two presentations of them, the Monday, May 6th presentation to the Education, Housing and Human Services Committee of Manhattan's Community Board 5 and the Wednesday, May 8th presentation to the trustees of the NYPL.
Above: Poster used at rallies protesting the sale and loss of libraries like Donnell
At the Community Board 5 meeting Mr. Offensend said that the sale of Donnell had `wound up' as a competitive process (although almost everybody remembers finding out about the sale only after a buyer had been selected.)  Offering an interesting description of those past events, Mr. Offensend explained that the Orient-Express hotel company had an inside track on bidding and that nobody else wanted to bid higher because that company already had a kitchen available that they could use in conjunction with building a hotel there: They owned the 21 Club restaurant on an adjacent 52nd Street lot, giving them “an almost unique interest” in the property.

Said Mr. Offensend:
We reached out. . . or we didn’t reach out, but our financial adviser reached out to several other parties who we thought might have specific reasons . . . so there were quite a number of developers in the development community who were contacted to see if they wanted to compete with this process and we did end up with a competitive process.
Offensend, pointing out that the Donnell property was owned by the library, described the sale as a “private transaction.”

An important component of the sale resulting in the 50-story building that is now being erected was that, as described by Mr. Offensend with little elaboration, the owner of 666 Fifth Avenue* agreed to eliminate a height restriction affecting the property.  Originally it had been reported that Orient-Express would build a hotel of eleven stories.  One must wonder why and if that would have provided reasonably sufficient justification to speed into a deal to buy and tear down the five-story library.
(* 666 Fifth Avenue now shows up in the portfolio of Vornado, landlord for Mayor Bloomberg’s Bloomberg LP. company.  In January 2007, the year that Donnell was sold, 666 was bought by the Kushner Companies according to the New York Times, 1/17/’12,-- Jared  Kushner is the publisher of The New York Observer– apparently for more than the 666 property was likely worth in terms of underwritten rents and Vornado got involved with the property in a later restructuring– described as “fantastic deal for Vornado” where Kushner put up a “$30 million share” into a pot of funds, that $30 million coming from the modified “air and light” agreement allowing the extra stories to be built at the Donnell site. No one has come forth to exactly explain all the deals that were structured behind the scenes but it is interesting to note that, in the beginning of 2007, Peter Slatin wrote speculatively in The Street envisioning some transactions that would have been highly pertinent to the Donnell sale had they in fact materialized: Getting All Aboard the Orient-Express, 03/26/07.  You have to read past the first page of Slatin’s post to see that he is imagining the scene he writes about where “Steve Schwartzman and Barry Sternlicht are sitting down for burgers” at the 21 Club with Andrew Davis of Von Essen Hotels celebrating their purchase of Orient-Express Hotels; Schwarzman and Sternlicht doing so respectively through their Blackstone Group and Starwood Hotels companies.  Who knows what stimulated Slatin’s speculative imagination, but what would have made his 21 Club victory dinner scene so oddly prescient had it or any variation thereof actually happened is that obviously Orient-Express Hotels later that year bought Donnell while at the same time Schwarzman was being brought into the NYPL as a one of the key NYPL trustees pushing the NYPL to do real estate deals like Donnell and the Central Library Plan, and also, obviously, although Orient-Express Hotels signed the inital contract to buy Donnell the company ultimately transferred its deal over to Sternlicht’s Starwood.  Perhaps the growth of monopolies and big companies being what it is there are just too few significant players in New York for coincidences not to multiply: In June of 2012 we find the Bloomberg administration approving Starwood to develop a hotel and residences in Brooklyn Bridge Park, with David Offensend as one of Bloomberg’s appointees to Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation complimenting the winning design in the minutes of the meeting documenting that corporation’s choice.  Evercore Partners, the investment company that David Offensend co-founded which might be described as sort of a boutique spin-off of Schwarzman’s Blackstone (two key partners, Roger Altman and Austin M. Beutner, are Blackstone alumni) has its New York offices at 55 East 52nd Street, just a ways down from 21 West 52nd Street, the address of the 21 Club.)
If you ask people you know in the real estate business they are almost certainly going to confirm for you that between the “almost unique interest” flowing from having the kitchen next door to the Donnell site and the ability to build a tower on the site with many extra stories, the latter is the far more important advantage one would want to lock up.

Presenting the Donnell plans to the NYPL trustees, President Anthony (“Tony”) Marx described the $39 million net figure for selling Donnell as “something in the area of $40 million”. . .  Because a precisely stated $39 million figure would have sounded just too darn small?

The public in attendance at the Community Board 5 was 100% negative about the new designs.  Most of the comments were about how small and un-library like the designs were.
The bleacher/stairs can be used to show people David Niven movies in the daylight
I was permitted to state a combined comment and question.

I noted that there is something that is both marvelous and sad: It is said that if a man suffers an extreme loss, say losing his legs or becoming a paraplegic, that the loss will be followed by unhappiness and grief but that even after such extreme losses human beings tend to return to a certain baseline or “set point” of happiness. Still, apart from the marvelousness of such human resilience I said I thought the saddest aspect of this was people would unfairly take things from others, expecting by taking advantage of this fact, expected that when a library like Donnell is wrenched away the public should be happy afterwards.

I noted that the plan renderings of the new library depicted a David Niven movie being played (in daylight?) for an audience that would sit on the bleacher/steps and suggested for this image it would have been much more appropriate to show the moment in Kings Row when Ronald Reagan awakens to find his legs missing and screams: “Where's the rest of me?”

I then asked why, if the theoretical purpose in selling Donnell was to capitalize on the potential value of the greater development that could be tapped (was that really the purpose?), the NYPL hadn’t built a bigger library, a better library, to serve a growing city rather than a much smaller, makeshift subterranean one?  After all, the city is a larger, wealthier city!
An image of a more appropriate film being shown in the space?: Ronald Reagan awakens, his legs missing, screaming, "Where's the rest of me?"
The question of why not a bigger, better library was not directly answered that evening except to the extent that Mr. Offensend said, in the course of some later general statements, that he viewed the new replacement space as equivalent space and that he thought that the reshuffling of programs and services off to other libraries in the system was a better way to serve the community.   
One reason the plans for the new Donnell don’t look like a library is their disregard for books. At the Community Board 5 meeting the presenting architect was asked whether the NYPL had specified what it wanted in terms of the books that it wanted accommodated in the space being designed.  The answer was that nothing had been specified either in terms of a book count or a required square foot area for books.
A slide shown in both presentations showing what the books in the library won't really look like, but showing that having books in a library is conceptionally important 
 Most of the panels of renderings do not show much in terms of the presence of books.  One, however, shows converging walls of books with stacks of them going up about thirteen feet into the air.  A member of the attending public commented about regulations requiring books to be within reach.  The architect explained that the rendering that featured all these books did not show what would actually be built, that it was just to show that the presence of books was conceptually important:
In terms of the images . .  again, this is schematic. .  So when you see images like this, this is not to say that books are higher than the allowed seven rows.  This is just simply to say that books are important to us, the books are important to the library when they came to us. . . that accessibility and visibility of the books is critical and that it should be something that helps define the space and create the character of the space.
When the same slide was shown to the NYPL trustees two days later they were told that the books would not be out of reach and that Tony Marx, the NYPL president, had himself spotted the problem that the rendering was of a conception that was impossible to permit.  Said the presenting architect: “We were reminded by Tony not to be unrealistic and to make sure that everybody could reach the books.”

The little space for actual books caused New York Magazine’s architectural critic Justin Davidson to wonder about the NYPL in a tweet: “Wonder if it'll make space for Orwell?”  How about Bradbury?
Plans to get people out of the library in "two minutes"
The plans show some books by the front entrance.  The NYPL trustees were told that the design was so that somebody ordering a book ahead of time could dash in to get it, needing to spend no more than “two minutes” in the library to get it.  

The stairway as library space is clever in that it is not only being used, oriented toward the one big street level window, to hide the fact that the space is subterranean; it also, by obviating the need for a stairwell, obfuscates the shortage of space in available and might otherwise have to be subtracted out for that purpose.  In the presentation, the stairway type space was praised for its “flexibility.”  As I have written in Noticing New York before, the praiseworthiness of “flexibility” (or “Murphy libraries”) is something that library officials are now onto as a way to extol the attractiveness of smaller libraries.
Sale of the Donnell Library site was no doubt inspired by the MOMA Museum tower rising to great heights right across the street:  Will this be the view toward which the gaze of library bleacher sitters will be directed as they gaze through the window above?
Library officials describing what the stair space can be (an auditorium, a daylight-admitting movie theater, a reading space, a concert space, a meeting or discussion space, even stairs!) display improvisational imaginations resembling Jonathan Winters on Jack Paar’s Tonight Show when handed a stick (it’s a fishing rod, a circus ringmaster’s whip, a flute).  Tony Marx referred to the bleacher/stairs as both an “agora” and a “piazza.” What is perhaps not so flexible is that when used as seating those steps will not be able to be moved or adjusted.  I haven’t visited the site to try to figure it out yet but will all those sitting on these steps legs forward find that their gaze, directed up through the street-level window, will be trained on the vertiginous sheerness of the Museum Tower’s monotonous glass walls?

The trustees were informed by the architect that the multiple uses would present complex problems when it came to noise that could not presently `pretend to have all the answers to.' At the Community Board 5 meeting assurance was given that buffering would prevent subway noise from being a problem despite the library being underground would be closer to it. The architects said they are looking at how to add “soft surfaces” to the "first cut" of the plan to reduce the sound levels.
The Prada store the library design resembles
The steps design of the library presented to the NYPL by name architects (Enrique Norten and his firm TEN Arquitectos) is actually something of a fashion knock-off, looking a great deal not like another library but like Rem Koolhaas’s 2001 design for Prada's flagship in SoHo.  At 24,500 square feet the Prada store is almost a match for the library’s 28,000 square feet.  (The old Donnell was 97,000 square feet.)  At $40 million the leased (fifteen years) Prada store in 2001 is double the $20 million being spent to build the library in 2013 and more than the NYPL sold the old Donnell for at the height of the 2007 real estate bubble. . . .

. . . This surely says something about the shifting priorities of our society.  The architect presenting to the NYPL trustees said the materials for the library would be “modestly priced” and recyclable to promote “sustainability.”
Construction site in March: Making way for condos and a high-end hotel
Is the open staircase space of the Prada store a good design?  This review expresses reservations that might apply to the setup of the library too:   
Upon entering the store, which previously housed the SoHo branch of the Guggenheim Museum, visitors are met with a largely vacant space dominated by an oversized, round elevator. OMA is said to have spent two months of research "investigating ways to reinvent the retail experience." Perhaps as a result of this, the ground floor only has a small amount of merchandise, relegating the majority of merchandise and actual shopping activity to the basement level, which feels cramped and lacks appropriate lighting.
50-story Baccarat Hotel and luxury residence tower from the Daily News.  Click to enlarge (if you dare).
If the new “Donnell” design doesn’t work out as a library, as it well might not, might it be transformed into another Prada store or the equivalent?  That’s a distinct possibility: As noted above, the space Prada took over for its retail enterprise was previously Guggenheim Museum SoHo branch space.  And would that not be a consummation devoutly to be wished by Tribeca Associates and Starwood Capital as the owners of luxury Baccarat Hotel tower, in which this space will be in the basement level?  They seem to have been pretty lucky in having wishes fulfilled at the expense of the public to date.
Triumph of `transparency’?
Ironically, when the Donnell plans were presented to the NYPL trustees the presenting architect celebrated the design as a triumph of `transparency’ that establishes a “welcoming dialogue with the community”: “What you see is a library that is intentionally transparent. . . an extension of the public realm.”   

When the Donnell sale was announced, Francine Fialkoff, Editor-in-Chief of Library Journal, wrote an editorial (February 1, 2008) excoriating the lack of transparency in that transaction: Donnell sale highlights need for transparency in decision-making.   Here are some extracts from it.               
        . . . the building that housed Donnell has been sold to make way for a hotel and a much smaller public library. .  (w)ith the proposed library having less than half the space for public services as the old Donnell . . . questions remain about the location of some of the collections. . . More importantly, the breakup of the collections diminishes the role of Donnell as a central library . . .  The decisions . . .  [were] communicated to staff (and in the case of Donnell, to the public) largely after the big decisions have been made.

        Should a public/private entity like NYPL. .  so blithely sidestep public and staff input? [The] Libraries Subcommittee chair of the New York City Council . . . “. . didn't know about the Donnell sale ahead of time.”  “It's troubling . . . in terms of . .  the whole mission of the library.”
        . . .  It's way past time for NYPL leaders to come out from behind their cloak of secrecy. .  get staff and public feedback before making any other sweeping changes.
Even now that lack of transparency continues: When the NYPL’s estimated date to open the replacement Donnell was last pushed back yet another year, from 2014 to 2015, the NYPL published that sad information on its website without mentioning the actual name of the library, which means that it would not show up in an internet search.  The NYPL website refers only to the “NYPL’s 53rd Street Library is scheduled to reopen to the public in 2015” without mentioning it by the now infamous name of “Donnell.”
Click on photo to enlarge (enough if you can): On left plans shows college classroom size auditorium
David Offensend and NYPL president Tony Marx are for the most part blithely unapologetic about Donnell.  They do not apologize for the lack of transparency, for the shrinkage, for the fact that it is underground, for the loss of the assets of the old Donnell, or for the pittance in return for which those assets were squandered/plundered.  (According to the Daily News the ‘replacement’ Donnell will have a tiny small auditorium of only141 seats.- In the public presentation this was talked about as being around perhaps150 seats, college classroom size.  The stair-shaped bleachers might hold 250.)   
Original Donnell auditorium being used for Jane Jacobs event in 2007, just before its announced destruction.  Not long after its expensive renovation. 
Marx’s only apology with respect to Donnell offered at the trustees meeting is that no one could have foreseen the 2008 financial crisis.  Calling the project “stunning” Marx said:
I really just want to thank Joanna and Dave [Offensend], in particular, for their leadership in this project from its beginning.  Of course none of us could foresee that the economy would change and change the schedule of this. . .
That’s not an excuse for how little Donnell was sold for since its sale price was set at the height of the real estate bubble preceding that crisis; it is only an apology for the fact that replacing Donnell (maybe in 2015) after its 2008 closing is taking so long.  Addressing the trustees to tell them such prognostication was impossible Marx displayed a sort of chipper pride.

What’s really scariest about this lack of apology from Marx and Offensend is that it goes along with envisioning these Donnell plans as the desirable model for all the city’s libraries.

I asked the following question at the Community Board 5 meeting:
On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being that this is a complete disaster that the NYPL is doing their best to cope with and 10 being that this is something exemplary that the NYPL wants to roll out to replace libraries throughout the system, how would you rate this?
David Offensend happily answered: “A lot closer to a 10 than a 1.”

Leaving the Community Board 5 meeting I wound up riding down in the elevator with David Offensend and his team.  I said “Well, your first presentation of the new Donnell!”

Offensend said, “We're pretty excited!”

I said, “I can imagine you were pretty excited when you sold it.”

He told me how great it was going to be for the users.  I told him he was saying all the right things.

I then said, “You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear” and I fixed my eyes on the architect who stood beside me, a young woman who I figure can’t really be blamed, as her firm had virtually nothing to work with.  (Later that day the Times article about the design would quote architect Enrique Norten as saying he had a "tough assignment" making the below grade into an inviting library.)

Offensend told me that he thought I was trying to make a sow's ear out of a silk purse.

The new shrunken Donnell plans are Offensend's silk purse?. . .

This is the model for the future?

. . .  What does this portend for the future of libraries in the city?  What does it say about the pride that Tony Marx and David Offensend are taking in the consolidating shrinkage of the Central Library Plan?  That plan also involves a suspiciously hurried and unexamined shedding of NYPL real estate assets to questionable ends.  Under that plan the research stacks of the Central Reference Library at 42 Street and Fifth Avenue under the Rose Reading Room would be demolished (the books being sent to Princeton, New Jersey), decommissioning that library as the important reference library it was intended to be.  The stacks are being ripped out so that the Mid-Manhattan library (the city’s most used library) and SIBL, the relatively new Science, Industry and Business library integrated with CUNY in the converted Altman’s Department Store building at 34th Street can be sold and jammed into that former stack space with cast-off remnants of the old Donnell.

What does this portend for the cities other libraries such as the Brooklyn Heights Library at Cadman Plaza on the border of Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn?   Even though that Brooklyn library is part of what is technically a separate system* (although all mostly funded by the city), its proposed sale for shrinkage closely replicates that of Donnell even as Brooklyn Public Library officials say they disavow the Donnell model.

    (* There are nevertheless notable connections to the NYPL’s Offensend.)
CB5 Board members at presentation: Board member far left suggests library "app" obviating need for architect at far right
Not all the reaction to the Donnell library plans during the Community Board 5 evening was negative.   The reaction of the public in attendance may have been 100% negative but the reaction from Community Board 5 members were positive on the whole.  They liked the digitization theme.  Said the woman running the meeting, perhaps envisioning a more total replacement of the library: “I am surprised you haven't already put your libraries on an app.”

Offensend, excitedly responded that they “would like to have it all on an app.”
Offensend out to view protestors outside the NYPL's Central Reference Library the day of the trustees meeting 
Is that where we are heading?   One friend of mine said of the envisioned substitution for Donnell: “It’s not a library . .   It’s a place for people to check their smartphones.”   But that’s not enough for everyone.  This week when I told a young college student in our family that she could instantly solve the challenge of providing herself with a book that she wanted by downloading it into Kindle she responded: “No thank you!  I like physical books.”
At the same protest event Offensend speaks with Citizens Defending Libraries Carolyn McIntyre (my wife) whose petition calling for a halt to the sale of libraries for real estate deals now has over 11,000 signatures, most of them online. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Consideration of Race, Equality, Opportunity and Democracy As NYC Libraries Are Sold And The Library System Shrunk And Deliberately Underfunded

This article is about the the selling off of New York City libraries, the shrinkage of the library system and the deliberate underfunding of the libraries as an excuse so justify the sales that create real estate deals that benefit developers, not the public.  It is also about another big topic that must be written about carefully: Consideration of how all of the above is infused with issues of race, equality, opportunity and democracy.

Carefully written, this article is also long, long enough to be in two parts.  The first part relates race, equality, opportunity and democracy to the role that Anthony W. Marx is serving with respect to these library real estate deals in his role as president of the New York Public Library.  The second part focuses on the particularities emerging with respect to how race, equality, opportunity and democracy relate to the proposed sale of the first two libraries being put up for sale in Brooklyn, the Pacific Branch and the Brooklyn Heights Library.

These are included as two parts of one long article because it is all connected and must be considered as a whole.

PART I- NYPL President Tony Marx and the Subject of Race, Equality, Opportunity and Democracy

The most important thing that New York Public Library president Anthony W. Marx (known as “Tony”) said on February 1, 2013 in a speech (click for best viewing) to the Association For a Better New York was his remark as he introduced the subject of the controversial Central Library Plan, a consolidating shrinkage of Manhattan’s four main libraries (at about 17:00 in on the tape) about two-thirds of the way into his address.  He brought up the Central Library Plan right after speaking at length about the importance of the public’s universal access to libraries.
Mantel in the Trustees Room
To introduce the subject of the Central Library Plan he referenced the mantelpiece in the Trustees Room in the Central Reference Library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, the “governance center” of the institution, as he says, and he had handed out to all the attendees of the breakfast he was addressing a postcard with a picture of the mantelpiece as a “prop.”  He then reads the following statement inscribed above the mantel:
The city of new York has erected this building for the free use of ALL the people.
The “ALL” in the above statement is Marx’s own emphasis, something we will return to.

Marx giving a little hint to buy real estate next to 42nd Street Central Reference Library
This remark was more important than:
    •    his remark (at 9:00)  that New Yorkers are coming to the libraries for “our air conditioning” . . . .   Library officials have adopted a peculiarly routine habit that whenever they want to sell libraries they justify their plans by citing insurmountable problems with library air conditioning and conjuring up startlingly high costs for repair.

    •    his announced hint with comic playfulness that people should buy up real estate at 40th Street Fifth Avenue (19:00).  He says: “Little hint: Buy commercial real estate on 40th Street between Fifth and Sixth.  I think I can say that as long as I don’t actually do it.”

    •    The way his speech concludes with real estate tycoon Bill Rudin, who had at the beginning of the event introduced Marx, edging in to put an end to the discussion (27:15 on the tape) saying about the Central Library Plan: “So what’s the problem?  Let’s get this done.  I mean this is not a, this not a,. . . Doesn’t seem to be too, too complicated.  But in New York everything gets complicated. Tony, we thank you.  We wish you luck. We’re here to help you.”
(To watch just these excised remarks edited with satirical emphasis go here for quick minute and half of video.)

The Real Estate Industry and The Libraries

What’s wrong with the consolidating shrinkage of the Central Library Plan, which is essentially a plan to create real estate deals for the likes of Mr. Rudin at the expense of the public which will be losing irretrievable assets?   A lot.  Who is Mr. Rudin to be asking "what’s the problem?"  He is the real estate developer that was involved with the demise of Greenwich Village’s St. Vincent’s Hospital through a plan that similarly began as a partnership between private real estate developers and a supposedly charitable institution that optimistically spoke of benefitting the charitable institution.  In the end, after great preoccupation on the part of the partnership decision makers with the real estate deal, the real estate deal was all that survived.. . . As noted above, Rudin concluded by telling Marx “We’re here to help you.”. . .

. . .  President Reagan joked about how “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: `I'm from the government and I'm here to help.’” I think we have entered into a new era where the words that should terrify us are “We’re from the real estate industry and we’re here to help you.”
Marx and Bill Rudin on right
Marx Give It His “ALL”

When Marx chose to heavily emphasize the word “ALL” in the engraved statement, “The city of new York has erected this building for the free use of ALL the people ” and to use the heavy emphasis he put into that statement to introduce the topic of the Central Library Plan he was choosing to frame the plan's introduction in the context socio-economic diversity.  The structure of his speech immediately prior thereto had included a substantial amount of rhetoric to establish that he favors accessibility of the system.

Even if it is being somewhat subtly done, Marx was also implicitly making the dialogue about the subject of race.  Marx has written extensively about race.  “Race” is often in the titles of what he writes.  In big politics this is often referred to as “playing the race card.”   It is not as if the issue of race would not inevitably need to be discussed given what is going on, but it is interesting that the NYPL chose to preemptively raise the discussion before anyone else.

Writers Challenging Marx’s NYPL PR on “Democracy”

The viewpoint Marx has chosen to promulgate, that despite the epigram carved into the mantel of the Trustees Room, the Central Reference Library erected by the City of New York in 1910 has somehow not been serving “ALL” the people for all these many years or somehow might have ceased to do so when the very small circulation library present there years ago was moved out of it has been challenged as a false narrative by a number of writers, including by Ada Louise Huxtable in her last column for the Wall Street Journal before she died, Michael Kimmelman as the New York Times architectural critic on that paper’s front page and before those two writers by Charles Petersen in an article that delved into what is really going on at the New York Public Library.

Said Huxtable:
The library's own releases, while short on details, consistently offer a rosy picture of a lively and popular "People's Palace.” But a research library is a timeless repository of treasures, not a popularity contest measured by head counts, the current arbiter of success. This is already the most democratic of institutions, free and open to all. Democracy and populism seem to have become hopelessly confused.      
Said Kimmelman:
The problem with it is not, as many prominent writers and scholars have complained, its excessive populism or the inconveniencing of researchers who might have to wait an extra day for books to arrive at 42nd Street from New Jersey. These snobbish-sounding objections have only fueled the library’s public relations offensive, which has advertised the plan as democratizing a building that many New Yorkers find intimidating.

But the library, free and open, is already an exemplar of democracy at its healthiest and best, of society making its finest things available to all. Climbing the library steps, passing the lions, rising up to the reading room where anyone can ask for books, enshrines, architecturally, the pursuit of enlightenment. Inspiring more people to reach those heights is the library’s loftiest mission. Peddling “democracy” as if it were a popularity contest is what “American Idol” does.
Said Petersen (actually just part of what he said on the subject in the second part of his long, two-part article):
Of all the justifications for the renovation, none is more disingenuous and misleading than the claim that the library is simply trying to make the main building more “democratic.” This is a facility that has stood for over a century and provided unparalleled service to a public that no other institution gives a damn about. It is the most democratic research library in the world, far more welcoming to the average user than the Bibliothèque Nationale, the British Museum, or the Library of Congress, let alone the libraries at Harvard and Yale. . . .

 . . . . While the administration at the New York Public Library likes to pretend the renovation will not affect researchers, when pressed they insist the main building must be “democratized.” The result is a bad dialectic between the casual readers, who like to check out books, and the fussy, over-educated “elite” readers, who want obscure volumes. . . .

More than anything, this rhetoric reveals the fundamentally anti-democratic worldview that has taken hold at the library. It is of a piece with what the new Masters of the Universe have accomplished in the public schools, where hedge funders have provided the lion’s share of the backing for privatization, and in the so-called reforms to our financial system, where technocrats meet behind closed doors to decide what will be best for the rest of us. Oligarchs acting in the people’s name (with the people’s money) is not democratic; selling off New York’s cultural patrimony to out-of-town heiresses, closing down treasured divisions and branches, pushing out expert staff, and shipping books to a warehouse in the suburbs, all without consulting the public, is not democratic. If the reconstruction goes through, scholarly research will be more, not less, concentrated in the handful of inordinately wealthy and exclusive colleges and universities. The renovation is elitism garbed in populist rhetoric, ultimately condescending to the very people the library’s board thinks they’re serving. . . .
Bigger Picture of System-wide Discriminatory and Anti-democratic Harm

All of the above authors are perfectly correct, but in focusing in so specifically on the fallacies of the NYPL’s “"People's Palace” PR, they all leave out a crucial aspect of the much bigger picture that the NYPL is choosing to side-step.  The questions of race, equality and access are not exclusively about the 42nd Street library: Part of what is behind the Central Library Plan and helping to drive it is that all of New York City’s libraries are being deliberately underfunded to manufacture an excuse to sell off city libraries while contracting the size of the system in the process.  There is no fine parsing the discriminatory effect of this: It is fundamentally undemocratic.

Libraries represent democracy.  It is unfair to underfund them at a time when the city is growing, when the city is wealthier than in the past and when library use is up dramatically, 40% programmatically and 59% in terms of circulation.  To then cite such deliberate underfunding as an excuse to say that the library system should convert to self-cannibalizing shrinkage sell-offs benefitting developers, not the public, as a new way of funding is absolutely antithetical to democracy.  This is especially so given that it cannot even be guaranteed that any funds from such sales will, in the end, go to libraries.  The absence of such guarantee is alluded to by Marx in his breakfast address when he says (at 12:20 and 13:18) that funding of libraries has decreased 20% at the end of the Bloomberg administration (it might have been avoided but for Bloomberg third term) and that the system needs “baseline city funding so that we can add private donations. .  building on that baseline.”*
(* It is a sad thing to tell that because the Bloomberg administration has been intentionally starving the system financially people can’t actually give money to the system with any assurance their gifts will ultimately have effect: For every dollar anyone gives the Bloomberg administration is free to make compensating reductions.  So for now, booksales, a Brooklyn Public Library “Bike The Branches” fundraiser, whatever, all these things go for naught.)
Credentials for Saying It Ain’t So

The sale of libraries to create real estate deals is an unjustifiable plundering of the system for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many.  Do such issues really simply vanish if Tony Marx pronounces that everything is exactly the opposite?   Isn’t that exactly the idea of having him say so?

Marx started as president of the NYPL July 1, 2011.  That he would be assuming that position was announced ahead of time, October 6, 2010, after a special meeting of the NYPL trustees, see: New York Public Library Names Dr. Anthony Marx Next President.

The NYPL press release announcing his appointment prominently associated his qualifications in terms of the subject of race to his appointment, reading in part:
At Amherst, where Dr. Marx became the youngest president in the College’s history when he assumed the post in 2003, he has earned wide recognition for his passionate promotion of socio-economic diversity and accessibility to higher education for lower-income students. The move to the Library, he said, is a natural outgrowth of his experience:
It then furnishes Marx with a gobbledygook quote that links “universal education” with “technological and intellectual frontiers”:
“The New York Public Library unites the world of advanced scholarship and the world of universal education. It conserves our cultural heritage and pushes ahead into new technological and intellectual frontiers. It cherishes both the tranquility of the reading room and the vocal debates of the public square. It is ‘local’ in the sense that New York is local—a community with global implications.”
It then assures us of Marx’s anti-elitist credentials:
"At Amherst, and for higher education more broadly, Tony Marx has been a courageous and skilled leader. He understands instinctively that America's greatest institutions need to be more accessible to all Americans, based on merit rather than elitism based on wealth and connections," said Jide Zeitlin, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Amherst College.
In the 1980s Marx spent time in South Africa participating in the anti-Apartheid movement and the press release tells us how he “helped found Khanya College, a South African secondary school that prepared more than 1,000 black students for university.”

Information about Marx’s writings about race and pluralism are impressively listed:
He is the highly regarded author of more than a dozen scholarly articles and three books: Lessons of Struggle: South African Internal Opposition, 1960-1990 (Oxford University Press, 1992); Making Race and Nation: A Comparison of the United States, South Africa and Brazil (Cambridge University Press, 1998); and Faith in Nation: Exclusionary Origins of Nationalism (Oxford University Press, 2003). Making Race and Nation received the American Political Science Association’s 1999 Ralph J. Bunche Award for the best book on ethnic and cultural pluralism, and the American Sociological Association’s 2000 Barrington Moore Prize for comparative-historical sociology. He received a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 1997, in addition to fellowships from the United States Institute of Peace, the National Humanities Center, the Howard Foundation, and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.
There is still more in the press release that drives home the point that Marx’s strong suit is that he is undeniably credentialed as an individual with a track record and knowledgeable expertise when it comes to diversity and pluralism.  Earlier I noted that it is interesting that the NYPL preemptively raised the issue of race and equality before anyone else.  It is also interesting that when they were hiring a new president while adopting a course of selling off libraries and pushing forward the Central Library Plan it looks like the priority was to find someone with exactly this kind of résumé.

Choosing One’s Inheritance?

Did Marx know what he was coming on board for?  One of the things you hear expressed by people in library circles is that Mr. Marx is a very smart man who would not have been in favor of a plan like the Central Library Plan had he been around at the time of its conception; that he was basically stuck with it as an inherited plan that preceded him.  A version of this was expressed by Paul Goldberger writing in Vanity Fair this past December:
When the protests against the project began, Marx found himself having to cope with an outpouring of resentment against a plan he had played no part in creating. His career before he took over the library would suggest that he might have been more inclined to give priority to strengthening the library’s neighborhood branches, many of which are starved for funds. But he inherited both the concept of the Central Library Plan and its architect, and it is unlikely that the trustees would have hired him had he balked at carrying out Foster’s plan.
Along these lines, in February I asked Ken Weine, spokesman for President Marx and the NYPL, the following question about where Marx really stood:
Some library insiders are saying that President Anthony W. Marx is a fairly nice, smart and level-headed fellow.  Can you comment and provide a response from, or on behalf of, President Marx on their insight that President Marx, given his thinking on the subject, would not, himself, exercising his own judgment, have initiated or recommended the Central Library Plan* to the library’s board, but is in a position of now having to support it because he inherited the plan upon his arrival?
(* The so-called “$350 million plan to remake NYC's landmark central library”)
Mr. Weine told me that he prefered that this not be first question I asked him to answer so, putting that question on hold for the time being, I proceeded to substitute the following question.
What response does President Marx and the NYPL offer to those who observe that the Central Library Plan was developed from the top down with a lack of input from, and communication with, staff, the public, and elected officials representing the public’s interest and point of view?  I note that the Committee to Save the New York Public Library says in its petition to President Marx, signed by many notable individuals of distinction, that the Central Library Plan was “never fully publicly revealed or discussed.”
Assignment For Good Marx: Use The Word “Democracy” In An Essay

The question was important because one of the things that Marx supposedly stands for, something intrinsically related to equality and pluralism, is the principle of democracy, and top-down impositions of grand schemes isn’t democratic.   Sounding the “democracy” theme Marx last week titled an Op-Ed appearing in the New York Times: E-Books and Democracy (May 1, 2013).  (The actual test of the essay in the Times used a variant of the word “democracy” only once.  Published just as the destruction of the research stacks is pending it was a mostly unconvincing argument that the digital age has arrived.)

NYPL On Whether Central Library Plan Is "Top Down"

Mr. Weine provided this response to my question (excised from a previous public statement):
"All large public projects get stronger as they receive feedback—which has certainly been the case for this plan, which will unite the nation’s busiest circulating library with its most treasured research library.

Over the past five years we have had a wide variety of public discussions on the library renovation—including with a range of architecture and preservation groups and most recently preceding the votes of New York City Community Board 5 and the Landmarks Preservation Commission, both of which approved the plan. These productive conversations will continue as our planning proceeds.”
D’Know Donnell?  Apparent “Uh-Oh” On Transparency

I told Mr. Weine that his response was very useful and asked in follow up:
Do you have a similar statement about public input with respect to the Donnell Library sale and closing back in 2008 or does NYPL make a distinction between its handling the Central Library plan and input from, and communication with, staff, the public, and elected officials representing the public’s interest and point of view vis a vis-à-vis the Donnell library?  
Mr. Weine’s absolute refusal to answer to this follow-up question is far more telling than the first answer he furnished to my earlier question about the top-down nature of the Central Library Plan because both the Donnell deal and the Central Library Plan are the product of the same team of people at NYPL.  If you want to know what people are really about look at what they choose to do first and what they do in secret and that was the sale of Donnell for shrinkage announced suddenly in 2007.
When the Donnell sale was announced, Francine Fialkoff, Editor-in-Chief of Library Journal, wrote an editorial (February 1, 2008) excoriating the lack of transparency in that transaction: Donnell sale highlights need for transparency in decision-making.   Here are some extracts from it.              
        . . . the building that housed Donnell has been sold to make way for a hotel and a much smaller public library. .  (w)ith the proposed library having less than half the space for public services as the old Donnell . . . questions remain about the location of some of the collections. . . More importantly, the breakup of the collections diminishes the role of Donnell as a central library . . .  The decisions . . .  [were] communicated to staff (and in the case of Donnell, to the public) largely after the big decisions have been made.

        Should a public/private entity like NYPL. .  so blithely sidestep public and staff input? [The] Libraries Subcommittee chair of the New York City Council . . . “. . didn't know about the Donnell sale ahead of time.”  “It's troubling . . . in terms of . .  the whole mission of the library.”
        . . .  It's way past time for NYPL leaders to come out from behind their cloak of secrecy. .  get staff and public feedback before making any other sweeping changes.
Disavowal of Donnell

Others in the community of library administration officials are disavowing the Donnell transaction:  Josh Nachowitz, spokesman for the Brooklyn Public Library, has said, “Donnell is great example of how not to do this [sell off a library]” and has been consistently highly critical of the Donnell transaction in public even as he essentially advocates replicating that transaction with the again top-down conceived and dictated, sell-off and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights library, like Donnell an important main library, this time in the borough of Brooklyn.

Donnell is disavowed in another way.  As you see from watching Marx’s ABNY address, Marx and NYPL library officials consistently refer to the consolidating shrinkage of the Central Library Plan as a consolidation of “three” of Manhattan’s main libraries, not four: the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, the Mid-Manhattan circulating library and the Science and Business Industry Library (SIBL) co-located and integrated with CUNY at 34th Street.  The fourth library not mentioned as part of the consolidation is Donnell, because if library officials have to mention how the CLP deals with the scattered remnants of Donnell they would have much more for which they need to account.   

Yes, Donnell is officially disavowed but Marx not only inherited the Central Library Plan, he inherited the staff that produced the Donnell sale, including NYPL Chief Operating Officer David Offensend, and they are still in place.  They are the ones behind the Central Library Plan.

Stuck with Donnell, Marx made an interesting choice presenting plans for the “replacement” Donnell to the NYPL trustees on May 8, 2013.  He apologized only for the delay in providing the "replacement" library blaming it on the unexpected financial crisis.  He didn't apologize for the shrinkage (down to one-third size), nor for its being almost entirely underground, nor for the low net price for which Donnell was sold (selling a huge newly renovated five-story-plus library in mid-Manhatan for less than $39 million), nor for the fact that it doesn’t seem to look or function like a library and has few books (New York Magazine’s Justin Davidson tweeted that he wonders whether they would have “room for Orwell”).  Closed in 2008, the inferior "replacement" for Donnell will not be completed until at least 2015.

Rebuttals To Weine’s NYPL Statement

I took Mr Weine’s statement above to the effect that the Central Library Plan was not top-down and that community input was sufficient to the Committee to Save the New York Public Library which says in its petition the Central Library Plan was “never fully publicly revealed or discussed” and got this response from Theodore Grunewald, one of the spokespersons for the Committee:
Mr. Weine’s statement is factually incorrect.

The NYPL has not had one single documented “discussion” about the CLP with any architecture or preservation group over the past five years.

In fact, opposing architecture and preservation groups had to scramble in haste to provide written testimony against plans revealed just a day or two in advance of votes taken at Community Board 5 and the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Furthermore, Mr. Weine’s recycled remarks from the library’s press office under-gird a fundamental flaw in the NYPL’s engagement with the public; what Community Board 5 and the Landmarks Commission approved were just the final details--the end result--of a radical, top-down plan dreamed up by the Trustees after extended, multi-year internal discussions.

There was no public input, nor oversight of that process whatsoever.
(Note: The statement above was given to me by Mr. Grunewald on February 27. The the NYPL has been inviting groups in to sell them on the Central Library plan to them so, so a number of those groups have been in since that time, but the purpose of these visits isn't to get suggestions for any significant changes to the plan.)

If one needs an arbitrating deciding vote on the question you’ll note that Paul Goldberger has a whole section in his Vanity Fair article with the subhead Stealth Endeavor.”  One part of it:
When the C.L.P. began to come back to life, it was almost as a stealth endeavor. The library didn’t have a final version of the architectural plans to show anyone—it still doesn’t—and despite the city’s commitment, the library didn’t have enough money to set a starting date.
Top Down Tap Dance

So, would Marx really have personally favored the top-down stealth plan he inherited?  As NYPL spokesman Ken Weine stopped answering my questions when I asked about Donnell I never got back to have my question about Marx addressed, but as Goldberger noted above: “it is unlikely that the trustees would have hired him had he balked at carrying out Foster’s plan.”

In other words, Marx’s support for the Central Library Plan was likely a precondition and part of his hiring.  Another answer is that when you watch Marx’s ABNY address, Marx is not only very slick and effective as a spokesman but he seems to have no detectable qualms about what he is doing.  Goldberger also describes in his piece how Marx personally took him to point out the quote carved over the mantel, telling Goldberger, “You notice it says ‘all the people.’ It doesn’t say ‘some of the people.’”

Clearly, Marx has signed on to support Central Library Plan espousing the highly questionable tenet that it is democratic.  Why?

Some say that when Marx took his position with NYPL he was eager to move back to New York.  His compensation, though the precise number has not yet been made public, also probably provided a substantial attraction.  Publicly available figures show that when Marx’s predecessor, Paul LeClerc, left office his all-in compensation annual compensation for 2011 (including some minimal deferred compensation) was $1,408,757.

Marx clearly took his position knowing he was going to have to support the Central Library Plan and likely he had already conceptualized he could support it with a theme of  “democratizing” that would have been consistent with the content of his CV.  But did he really know at that time the full implication of what he was signing on to support?  Even now, even in public hearings, it can be seen that specific details of running the library are fed to Marx by NYPL Chief Operating Officer David Offensend.

Moral Hangover?

A joke told about Marx is that November 6, 2011, the date of Anthony Marx’s arrest for drunk driving in a NYPL car, was the night that Bloomberg told him what he was going to have to do with respect to selling off the libraries.  While Goldberger reports that the arrest was complicating factor in terms of Marx’s relationship with the NYPL trustees at a time when they were already complicated the joke, for reasons already mentioned, is probably unfair to the extent that it implies that Marx didn’t know he’d have to support the CLP.
BPL President Linda Johnson listening to Marx's ABNY speech
But maybe Marx, hadn’t until that time considered the full implications of supporting the CLP, what it meant in terms of taking library sales and shrinkage on the road across the city.  The November 6th DWI incident was right around the time that a lot of ramping of the real estate deals selling off city libraries was occurring.   October 16, 2011, Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson, Marx’s BPL counterpart, was telling the Daily News the BPL was envisioning of certain real estate deals.

Forget any possible jokes about it, there is a serious question about whether Marx when he took his job to support the CLP seriously considered the implications of plans to sell libraries across the city in a system shrinkage, and (as we'll get to in a moment) the way that the deliberate underfunding of libraries is being used as a rational for such sales and shrinkage.

Meanwhile, Marx is fronting effectively for these things drawing on a deep well of credibility.

Marx’s Well of Good Will

I have a friend, sort of an old lefty.  He goes way back in terms of his political activism.  We have stood shoulder to shoulder fighting a number of causes even if I may say his hard working activism goes back further than mine and he is probably more left-leaning than I am.  My old lefty friend stands with us in the fight against selling libraries even as he believes in the good faith of Marx, even to the extent that he believes that Marx, with appropriate appeals, can yet be swayed.  He says of Marx: “he genuinely loved . . . messages of democracy and imagination for those under-imagined in this country and the world” and approvingly cites the “policies Marx implemented at Amherst having to do with attempting  to give scholarships to a much wider swath of working class kids” so that “Amherst is now the top gun among the elite schools in true diversity of the student body though still a ways to go.”

As for the applicability of Marx’s work at Amherst to libraries: Marx was working to open access to an elite school and the education available there. He was not working to ensure equal access to Starbucks or to replace that elite education with something that would resemble simply schmoozing at Starbucks.

BTW: My lefty friend thinks the personal foible of the drunk driving arrest should be dismissed as something that’s not that important.  That's something I sort of agree with him on.   And yes, as my friend points out, cell phone use while driving is also pretty dangerous.

But what about the fact that, coincident with creation of these real estate deals and proposed system shrinkages, New York City libraries are being underfunded when usage and city wealth are up?

The Campaign Against Library Underfunding That Never Was: “Fund Our Libraries Or We Will Sell Them!”

Does Marx really buy into the rhetoric that because libraries are being underfunded they must now be sold off and shrunk because there is no way to fight the underfunding itself?  Shouldn’t the strategy have been to mount an effective fight?

Rather than tolerating underfunding year after year and then suddenly announcing that things are at the irreversible point of no return where libraries must be sold, wasn’t there a far more effective strategy that would have raised the necessary funds?  Why didn't the library system do this: Announce that unless the diminishing funding for libraries from the Bloomberg administration were quickly and substantially increased libraries were going to have to be sold to rapacious developers and the system shrunk?

Instead potential sales of libraries are kept under wraps and sprung on the public at the last minute.  Like the initial sale of Donnell, these library sales have been secretly conceptualized at the top by library officials for many years. That information could have been pushed out to the public long ago.  When information about the sales is finally made public library officials work to make the sales palatable by obfuscating about the shrinkage and other losses to the public.

Marx As Actor In Political Theater

Signs that Marx is either complicit in the political theater favoring the sales and system shrinkage or sleepwalking through the issues can be seen in the brief Q&A session at the end of the ABNY breakfast.
Jimmy Van Brammer addressing Marx and suggesting applause
City Council Member Jimmy Van Brammer, (at about 22:40) says:
I just want to mention that, as regards to budget, obviously under Speaker Quinn’s leadership we’ve restored something in the neighborhood of $400 million to libraries over the last five years and I feel like that deserves a mention and some applause [which he then got!] . . . and it’s never enough we always want more for our public libraries. .  .
Responds Marx:
Well, first let me reiterate as I said, the council, particularly Jimmy, you, and council member Gentile and Jackson who are here and so many of your colleagues have done amazing work.  And as I said, you know, those restorations are lifeblood for us and we know how much you fight for them and we couldn’t be more grateful.  We just. .  We want to be able to do more.
Not mentioned is that although City Council Speaker Quinn has herself acknowledged the toll this annual Kabuki dance” takes on the library system, she has, as Van Brammer knows, year after year refused to introduce the baseline funding bill that would put an end to it.  All this praise for “restorations” of funding obscures the fact that, in the bigger picture what is being praised is annual reductions of funding under Quinn’s leadership.  Why does Van Brammer ask that Quinn be applauded for such “leadership”?  Because you get more flies with honey?  Or because Quinn is so powerful that the only way that Van Barmmer was going to mention the important economic benefits of libraries was to praise Quinn first?

Why does Marx play along, saying that the City Council has done “amazing work” and that the library system “couldn’t be more grateful” for such reductions?  Endorsing this perverse norm as something sensible the public ought to accept is tantamount to saying that libraries should be sold simply because wealthy New York doesn't fund its libraries even at the level that economically troubled city of Detroit funds its libraries.

Once again, why didn’t somebody shove all this kabuki theater (aka “Dwarf Tossing”) aside and sound the alarm to the public that unless libraries got proper funding there was going to be a fire sale of public library real estate to rapacious developers?  Surely then Quinn responding to the resulting public outcry and demand that libraries be properly, funded would have stopped blocking the baseline funding bill.  

Not having sounded the alarm is resulting in all New York City libraries being underfunded, decreasing opportunity and equality throughout the city.  It is quite apparent that waiting until the last minute was calculated to better excuse the real estate sales.  It’s something Anthony W. Marx ought to have given thought to.

A Carter Less Magna?

The New York Times recently ran a story about Majora Carter, a well known award-winning South Bronx activist who, among other things, was awarded a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation grant in 2005. See: Hero of the Bronx Is Now Accused of Betraying It, by Winnie Hu, April 4, 2013.

In the past I’ve found myself readily cheering Ms. Carter’s story, finding her highly charismatic but the gist of the Times story was to raise the possibility that she has now sold out her activist credentials, charging new clients $500 to meet.  Reading it, I felt sorry for Ms. Carter because as I know there is virtually no possible money in activism and you really oughtn’t to expect there to be.  But what do you do when you are an activist and you still want to make a living in this world where the world’s economy is increasingly owned and controlled by a few at the top.  The article generated a substantial number of comments, many of them thoughtfully composed.   One of the comments begins:
Honestly not sure I see the problem. Carter contributed years of her life to improving her community; now she wants to make a decent living. Nothing wrong with that. It's not the same career but a lot of the people criticizing her have never made the contribution of time that she made.
Yes, now that she's on FreshDirect's payroll she probably shouldn't be trusted on whether the company should get its permits.
Knowing that there is no money in activism, essentially what I mostly do now myself, I give a fair amount of thought to these kinds of things.  It seems that Anthony Marx inevitably must consider these things too.

PART II- The Pacific Branch and Brooklyn Heights Libraries and the Subject of Race, Equality, Opportunity and Democracy
A constant stream of people are going in and coming out of the Pacific Branch library
Specifics on Pacific Branch

When I first wrote in Noticing New York about the subject of race, opportunity and equality in relation to libraries I segued from agreeing with Kimmelman that the Central Library Plan is not about equality (but the reverse) to gingerly raising the subject of prejudice in the way library officials were promoting the view that the historic, recently renovated and heavily used Pacific Branch library, the first Carnegie library opened in Brooklyn, should be viewed as `dilapidated' and therefore culled out of the Brooklyn Public Library’s inventory of holdings:
There are those who when they look at a building or a neighborhood to assess what kind of shape it is in will be less inclined to see the actual infrastructure they are looking at than the people who are filling that space.  If the people in that space are of the same socio-economic strata as themselves, or above, they may be more inclined to conclude that the neighborhood or the buildings they are assessing are in good shape and quite serviceable to their purpose.  But if the people inhabiting that environment have less wealth (or are of a different race) that conclusion might not be so quickly reached.
(See: Saturday, February 9, 2013, Libraries That Are Now Supposedly “Dilapidated” Were Just Renovated: And Are Developers’ Real Estate Deals More Important Than Bryant Park?)
Historical photo of library in the vestibule
The proposed sale of the Pacific Branch library involves such a complicated shell game it is difficult to get into it all (including the idea that the pubic was encouraged to approve- blackmailed?- of rezonings and additional density to get a new library near BAM.)  The Pacific Branch, like the Brooklyn Heights branch, is also right next to Forest City Ratner property, just yards from the Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” arena.
Suffice it to say for purposes of this discussion that, big picture, what the BPL is now proposing to do is to sell and close the Pacific Branch that serves an identifiable population and use the proceeds (they won’t be entirely sufficient) to pay for outfitting a new library across the Street from BAM.

Par For The Course: A “Cultural Condominium”?

At recent City Council budget hearings about the libraries, Linda Johnson, the BPL president apparently having not gotten the memo about not sounding elitist described the new library to go across from BAM as a “cultural condominium.” That, indeed, reflects back to the original idea for the library, an idea now theoretically abandoned, of the library being a sort of specialized arts-oriented extension of BAM.

The new BAM “cultural condominium” library would be further away and physically removed from the constituency of the Pacific Branch, on the other side of three of Brooklyn’s major intersecting traffic ways.   Richard Reyes-Gavilan, the Brooklyn Public Library's director and chief librarian, dismisses the distance as being a mere “golf shot” away from the old site.   Reyes-Gavilan works on the libraries real estate deals and was promoted on October 18, 2011 (as the real estate projects were coming more to the fore) to help Linda Johnson “lead the transformation” of the libraries.
Richard Reyes-Gavilan foreground and Josh Nachowitz presenting the Pacific Branch and BAM South libary real estate deals at a Community Board 6 committee meeting
It could be that Richard Reyes-Gavilan is correct and the quarter-mile distance the cultural condominium library would be set up would be just a “golf shot” away (or maybe the distance of several golf driving ranges), but, in other ways the new library would likely be a more significant move away from the current clientele of the Pacific Branch.

Different Kinds of Gentrification- Does Anyone Get Left Behind?

Gentrification is a difficult subject to discuss: Its dynamics are complicated and the word can describe a range of differing processes.

When Jane Jacobs wrote her “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” in 1961 before the term “gentrification” was coined she described an organic process she called “unslumming” that might today be included under the “gentrification” rubric, but that process was not so much an economic eviction of people in a neighborhood but the growth into prosperity of the residents of a neighborhood through their own industry and self-improvement.  At the other end of the spectrum is a process that often raises hackles is when, with shifts in economics, a wealthier population moves in to displace a lower-income population.  It is a little talked about dirty little secret that city governors are biased toward wanting wealthier populations within their city limits and tend to act accordingly.

Both processes I just described will generate a wealthier neighborhood population.  Libraries can factor in, actually assisting, particularly in the former process.  Even though a city may thirst for workers of all economic strata city governors are prone to investing in resources that primarily serve and attract those who are wealthier.

The real estate industry’s concerns are different but not necessarily always out-of-sync with the inclinations of city governors.  The real estate industry thrives on change and construction and benefits from churns that may not be beneficial to the rest of the population.  So long as it makes money in the end, the real estate industry doesn’t particularly care to which segments of society it directs its attentions.  Nevertheless, there is always an economic attraction to serving wealth and when schemes are abusive it is more likely that those abused will be those with the less power and wealth.  Rather than expound further I recommend viewing and reflecting on the recent documentary film “My Brooklyn” by Kelly Anderson, which addresses the history of real estate development in Brooklyn.

Sale of Pacific Street as a Discriminatory Eviction

The Park Slope Civic Council, objecting to the proposal to sell the current building and moving the library resources to the new site now under development, unanimously passed a resolution urging the preservation of the Pacific Street branch.

The discussions of the council that led to the adoption of the resolution on March 7 ruminated in part on the discriminatory aspects.

The resolution includes these words:
Whereas the Pacific Branch Library currently is well used by residents of adjacent communities and students in nearby schools that lack libraries and is an important resource to them; and

Whereas the Park Slope Civic Council is concerned that current library users would not be well served by the library’s relocation to a site north of Flatbush
Save the library button from the Park Slope Civic Council that they will have available at this year's annual Park Slope House Tour and fundraiser on Sunday, May 19th
Brooklyn Heights Library Sale and Shrinkage as a Discriminatory Eviction

Are the other plans library officials have for “redeveloping” different libraries likely to involve such discriminatory evictions?  We are only just beginning to see plans for the first libraries proposed to be redeveloped so the only way to judge what may still be under wraps is to look at what they want to do first.
Sent in by a NNY reader: The morning crowd waiting for the Brooklyn Heights downtown library to open
The other planned sale in Brooklyn, being pushed even further and faster along than Pacific Street, is the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library.  A key publicly stated justification for shrinking the library is the eviction from it of the Business and Career Library portion of that library, an important library for job seekers.  The bottom line, whatever justifications offered, the library would be substantially shrunk.

It was a shock that seemed entirely counterintuitive when the Brooklyn Heights Association  almost immediately acquiesced and condoned the proposed sale and shrinkage of the neighborhood library.

Here is background to be considered.  This winter I was canvassing for the Citizens Defending Libraries petition and campaign outside the Brooklyn Heights Library with my wife when Alexandra Bowie came by.  At the time Ms. Bowie was the Brooklyn Heights Association board member in charge of the BHA committee charged with responding to the proposed sale and shrinkage.   In a brief conversation Ms. Bowie addressed a remark to us that I have a hard time absorbing and figuring out.  She said, “There is something we have to be very careful not to talk about“ and then observed that a lot of people who used the library were not from the neighborhood.  Whether she said “a lot of people” or “most of the people,” I no longer remember exactly.  She elaborated by explaining that many of the people using the library came from the projects that were nearby.
Crowd assembling for entry to Brooklyn Heights Libary on another wintery morning
My first reaction when people tell me that something should not be talked about is that it is probably exactly what does need to be talked about.  What exactly Ms. Bowie meant baffled me. At the time I was turning a lot of possibilities over in my mind.   Even though Ms. Bowie was stopping to talk with us then we had a future appointment set up to meet with her to talk about our Citizens Defending Libraries petition’s opposition to the sale and shrinkage and what we were recommending the position of the Brooklyn Height Association should be.

 Interpreting In the Context of Dates: Who Decided What When?

When Ms. Bowie said what she said, it was after the Brooklyn Heights Association’s annual meeting (February 11, 2013 also after February 22nd) and we strongly suspected the BHA was inclined to go along with the plan no matter how convincing we could be; nevertheless we had some hope that there might be some sentiment against a sale.

One possible interpretation of Ms. Bowie’s remark with which I struggled with was that there would be less support for preserving the library if people talked about who its users included.  BTW: Neighbors from the nearby project do use the library and the library, convenient to lots of transportation, draws users from all over the borough and city.

Alexandra Bowie in Brooklyn Heights Blog article announcing her appointment as BHA president
We had our scheduled meeting with Ms. Bowie the morning of March 14th.  What we didn’t realize when we met with her was that later that same day the BHA would (with no fanfare) put up its position on the web saying the position had already been voted by the BHA board.  In that light our meeting with Ms. Bowie was scheduled for a futilely late date.  Days later, on March 19. 2013, it was announced that Ms. Bowie had been elected the President of the Brooklyn Heights Association.

Everyone seems to agree with that fact that the BHA voted to take its position only after the Friends of the library group took its position.  Judy Stanton, Executive Director of the BHA said the BHA adopted its position in support of the friends group position.

The Friends group circulated its position for adoption by its trustees on February 20, 2013, the day before it was announced Ms. Bowie had become president of the BHA, a while before Ms. Bowie ran into us to make her remark about what should not be talked about.

It is not clear that the Friends group ever adopted the odd position favoring the sale and shrinkage of the library.  Instead the Friends group posted the position of its “steering committee,” a position apparently adopted preceding the February 20, 2013 circulation of that position to the trustees.

It was not previously clear who the Friends steering committee was but recently Deborah Hallan, the secretary of the Friends group, has provided information to fill in these details.  The “steering committee” of the Friends group was composed almost entirely of outsiders who were not trustees of the friends group, whose interests were not necessarily aligned and may likely have been in conflict with those of the Friends group.  One of these individuals was Alexandra Bowie.

So the BHA may have taken its position in support of the Friends group position but, in turn, a steering committee that included Alexandra Bowie (about to be appointed BHA president), was meeting to lead the Friends group and give it its position.

Ms. Hallen said the “steering committee” was set up to take over decision-making for the Friends group because BHA Executive Director Judy Stanton told her if she wanted to get any work done she should turn things over to a smaller committee.

According to recent information from Ms. Hallen, the “steering committee” that took over this leadership consisted of Deborah Hallen, Alexandra Bowie, Roger Adler (a politically active lawyer), Tom Amon (a lawyer formerly on the BPL board last appointed by Bloomberg in 2008), and Dolores McCullough (a librarian working in the BPL main branch at Grand Army Plaza).

Cooked Up Short Order?

The fleet `spontaneity’ with which both the BHA and the Friends group fell in line agreeing to abide the sale and shrinkage of the neighborhood is notable.  The proposal was formally unveiled as of only January 29, 2013 by the BPL, which chose to do so at a Friends group meeting.  The BHA already seemed firmly inclined to its position as of February 11th.  The “Steering committee” that included Ms. Bowie made up its mind sometime on or before February 20th.     

At our March 14th meeting with her Ms. Bowie told us she had not known of the planned sale of the library until January.  Similarly, Ms. Hallen very recently told us it was not until January that she knew of the planned sale and shrinkage.

Tinged Expressions Favoring Library Sale and Shrinkage

Whatever Ms. Bowie herself meant when commenting about people from the projects and from outside the neighborhood using the library, the fact to be considered is that shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library, particularly the Career Library and making it into more of a Starbucks environment in a luxury high rise will effectively evict from the library some of the current clientele using the library.

That seems to be the way that some of the people commenting on the local blog see it, more or less saying `good riddance.’  (Note that the canvassing experience of Citizens Defending Libraries is that, notwithstanding any such the quotes below, the overwhelming sentiment in Brooklyn Heights is opposition to the plans to sell and shrink the library.)

For instance, here a comment expresses the idea that a shrunken library would be “safer”:
    . . . He is a LIAR if he looks people in their faces and says he enjoys that library. It is a horrific place. A new library that is smaller and in a mixed-use facility bringing housing to the area is perfectly fine. And, good housing stock will help that part of CPW be safer and become more alive.
Or that the library needs to be shrunken because it is “nasty”:
Let it go, already! It must be 99% of people in the Heights that would love to get rid of that nasty library. I would never bring my kids in there! SOme quality housing and a smaller, better library is what we need. It will be best for the community and the library system.
The last set of comments (below) all appended to one post, all receptively using the word “nasty,” may not even be written by different people even though different names are used with maybe some stress of dialects:
Brooklyn Girl
The place is nasty. A new library would be fantastic. I used to take my kids there, but the children's room is overrun with lazy nannies ignoring their charges and completely disregarding the rules - diapers changed on tables, food everywhere. It's horrible.

    * * * *

yo, that library is NASTY. it's not a regular neighborhood library - have you seen how filthy it is? what people do to/in that facility? no thanks, i'll buy and sell books on amazon.

    * * * *

It is the WORST library I have ever been in. It is just amazing how city-run organizations are always hellish.
Must Luxury Housing Be Library’s Presumed Replacement?

If the existing Brooklyn Heights Library is sold and demolished the questions go beyond what will replace it in terms the size and adequacy of any replacement library and who such a library will serve.  There is a question of what kind of building that replacement library will be in.  This brings up the subject of deed restrictions to dictate what will be built on the city-owned land the library occupies.

Days after the February 11, 2013 annual Brooklyn Heights Association meeting I wrote a Noticing New York article that included advice to the Brooklyn Heights Association that assumed the BHA would want deed restrictions on the land to control what could be built there rather than leave it to chance, perhaps winding up with a startling oversized building.  For example, the desirability of deed restrictions quickly became part of the dialogue when the community was discussing what would happen if the Pacific Branch library were sold..  (See: Wednesday, February 13, 2013, One-Stop Petition Shopping: Report On The Brooklyn Heights Association Annual Meeting, LICH and Libraries.)

I found that the BHA was resistant to my suggestion that they recommend deed restrictions on behalf of the community.  I discovered this in discussion following up after the annual BHA meeting, in our March 14th discussion with Ms. Bowie and when the BHA position came out later that March 14th day there was no request for deed restrictions.  More recently, perhaps under pressure from our recommendation and cautions, Ms. Bowie on behalf of the BHA, has said that the BHA will negotiate for restrictions (not deed restrictions) on some of the aesthetics of the replacement building such as “finishes” and perhaps bulk.

Here is something I did not bring up when I wrote recommendations to the BHA for deed restrictions in February but that I now realize I should have: Deed restrictions do not have to be confined to bulk, density or finishes.   Deed restrictions could also address the future use of the property and could require that the city-owned land be used for affordable housing.  A lot of people believe that affordable is desirable and some don't.

Historical Precedent - Bringing Back What Was Lost?

A specification that the land be used for affordable housing would be entirely appropriate and provide some historical continuity in several respects.  The land is part of an overall parcel that was redeveloped as urban renewal property in the early 1960s.  Other residential development in the urban renewal area was made subject to affordability restrictions when it was built.

The residential buildings built as part of that '60s urban renewal redevelopment were Mitchell- Lama middle-income apartments.  The urban renewal actually produced fewer new residential units than it eliminated, less density in that regard.  Why was a reduction of the number of residential units considered desirable (whereas redevelopment of the library will now increase the number of units)?  Oral history from some of the very long-term residents of the  Mitchell- Lama apartments that were built sometimes tell the story this way: The building were built to stem the tide of “white flight.”

Going beyond the urban renewal that was actually carried out in the '60s, Robert Moses wanted to bulldoze much of Brooklyn Heights, nearly all of it, for roads, bridge footings and for more slum clearance urban renewal.  In the end very little of the Heights succumbed to his plans after community opposition.  The area of the Heights ultimately torn down in the urban renewal area did not actually look so very different than what surviving; it would now be nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the neighborhood had it survived. But if what was actually lost were the residences where the poorest Brooklyn Heights residents lived, as is so often the case when these decisions are made, then those who were the poorest were the ones making the sacrifices when residential units were subtracted from the neighborhood and subsidy was provided to keep white families in the neighborhood.

If the Brooklyn Heights library is actually torn down then using the city-owned library land to provide lower-income housing would, in a sense, provide reparations to a segment of the population that sacrificed unequally in the urban renewal programs of the '50s and '60s.

BPL and City Not Really After The Money

An argument that can be made against deed restricting the property to require low income housing if the library is demolished is that the land will sell to a developer at a higher price if the developer is allowed to instead build the luxury condominiums for which there would be more lucrative market demand.  However, one thing to know when considering that argument is that any money from the sale of the library will go to the city of New York, not the BPL now fixated on selling its library.  Further, there is absolutely no way to assure that the library would, in the end, get any more funds from the city after the sale.

More important is that the BPL is intent on a sale structure, a “Request For Proposal” structure, involving a so-called “public/private partnership” that is not likely to bring in the best price for the library.  I have written about this before.  Indicative of how little concerned library officials can be about getting good value when an asset is sold is the example of Donnell, where a large five-story, newly renovated library in mid-Manhattan was sold by the library system netting only $39 million at the height of the 2007 real estate bubble.   The penthouse apartment in the fifty-story building replacing it is now being marketed for $60 million.

If Officials Were Sincere About Serving The Public

Had New York City and library officials truly wanted just to redevelop the Brooklyn Heights Library site and gett the highest price for it, instead of handing it off crony capitalism style to a developer, it could have served the public doing something entirely different and it would also have obviated any disruption of library service for the public: It could have built a new, larger library on other city property and then moved the library into it. This would have avoided any need for a multi-year "temporary" or "interim" library.
Rending that appeared in Curbed of repurposing of space in Brooklyn Municipal Building where city is giving turning over 50,000 square feet of space to other use.
For instance, there is a huge amount of space in Brooklyn’s Municipal Building across from Borough Hall and around the time the city was looking at redevelopment and future use of the library site just a few blocks away the city was deciding that a lot of the space in the Municipal Building should be changed over to another use.  Those plans could have been adjusted to set aside the right amount of space for a large library.  If that were done, it would be unnecessary for a generation of children to grow up without the support of a proper neighborhood library.  There would have been no interruption of service as the new library would be completed before the old one vacated its premises.  Afterward, the library site could have been put up for sale in a clean and simple Request For Bids process.

But these approaches that would better serve the public are not what library and city officials are about.  This is also not to advocate that tearing down and replacing the Brooklyn Heights Library is really the best decision to be made.

The Future In Store?  Northern Manhattan or Harlem?

Will the future plans of library officials for other libraries be equally discriminatory in design and effect?  The NYPL real estate plans calls for a “hub” library in "northern Manhattan" (does that mean “Harlem”?) and one on Staten Island and it speaks with Orwellian ominousness of providing “better service to users through fewer service points.”  In the plans library officials have been rolling out new “hubs” mean consolidating shrinkage.

Until the actual plans roll out for the rest of the library system one can only forecast on the basis of the plans library officials have already  rolled out.  Prospects are not good.  The plans for the Pacific Branch and the Brooklyn Heights Library appear to be discriminatory in concept and design.  The shrinkages of Donnell that puts a one-third size library underground does not seem so blatantly discriminatory but Donnell was one of the few places anyone could visit in midtown Manhattan and still feel comfortable without having substantial economic resources at their disposal.

Let’s then return to how NYPL Tony Marx constantly strives to portray changes going on in the library system as democratizing.  I don’t believe that he is even partially correct or believable in doing so, but even if he were there is a lot more going on that must be examined for its opposite and discriminatory effects.

NYPL as CUNY’s Library
Marx talking about CUNY
One last note about discriminatory effect.  At the very end of the CUNY ABNY address video (27:30) Tony Marx interviewing with a reporter says: “The New York Public Library is the library for the graduate program and many of the campuses of the city University of New York.”

Yes, that is another effect.  CUNY provides an education to New York students who cannot afford the costs of elite universities like Columbia or NYU.   Those elite educational institutions have their own elite libraries out of reach to others.

Marx and Rudin
I said at the outset that this article had to be long enough to include everything it does because, in the end, it is all connected. We’ve covered a lot of ground here as a result.

Perhaps it can be argued that some of the issues addressed here that concern equality, opportunity and democracy are more socioeconomic than related directly to the issues of race that so often closely interconnect. Arguably this is more a matter of the interests of the 1% taking precedence over the 99%.  Nevertheless, the selling off and shrinkage of library system assets clearly diminishes opportunity.  It is being done in a top-down, very undemocratic fashion for the benefit of a few at the expense of the many, and it will increase inequality in an increasingly unequal society.  Despite protestations, it appears that it is being done by people who do not care enough about those ultimately losing out. . .   

And it is unfortunate so many people are losing out.
Crowd of some 200 or so demonstrating to save libraries May 8th, day of the NYPL Trustees Meeting.  Demonstrators were on all three entrance sides of the building and some attended the meeting as well.