Sunday, July 7, 2013

When (If?) The Mid-Manhattan Library Is Ultimately Sold As Part Of NYPL’s Central Library Plan, How Big A Building Would Replace It?

Mid-Manhattan Library and behind it 10 East 40th Street on left and 445 Fifth Avenue on right. Would these three buildings be torn down to put up a very much larger building?
As people should know by now, an important part of the New York Public Library’s Central Library Plan (CLP) is the sale of its very heavily used Mid-Manhattan Library.  In fact, there is plenty of reason to suspect that a goal of selling off that building may be the main reason that the NYPL is pursuing the CLP.  We’ll come back to that momentarily.

If the CLP goes through and the Mid-Manhattan library is sold, how big would the building be that replaces it?

Testimony delivered by Don Christensen at Assemblyman Micah Kellner’s June 27, 2013 hearing on the sale of New York City public libraries provided information and grounds for analysis to strongly suspect that 10 East 40th Street, the building directly adjacent to the Mid-Manhattan building to the east, is likely to be torn down and its lot combined with Mid-Manhattan’s to build something very big.  As Mr. Chistensen pointed out, 10 East 40th Street is one of the “shaded buildings” on the Mid-Town Rezoning map “built prior to 1961 and . .  particularly targeted for replacement with more modern and taller buildings.”  The map Mr. Chistensen provided with his testimony appears below.  See: Tuesday, July 2, 2013, Startling Testimony at State Assembly Hearing on NYC Library Sales.

This was "ATTACHMENT D" to Mr. Christensen's testimony- click to enlarge
Noticing New York included information and grounds for analysis to strongly suspect that another building next to the Mid-Manhattan Library, 445 Fifth Avenue, immediately adjacent to the south, would also be torn down and combined with the Mid-Manhattan site.  See: Saturday, June 15, 2013, SIBL, NYPL's Science, Industry and Business Library Sold At An Unreported Loss To The Public (And an Elucidating Sideways Look At The BAM South Library Real Estate Games).

The only thing that makes it truly worth tearing down big buildings is building much bigger ones.  So one way to speculate about how big the replacement building for Mid-Manhattan would be is to imagine all three of these buildings torn down and replaced by a single building proportionately much bigger than the already very big 10 East 40th Street and 445 Fifth Avenue buildings, themselves much bigger than the Mid-Manhattan building. (See the picture at the beginning of this article and below.)
Again, Mid-Manhattan Library and behind it 10 East 40th Street on left and 445 Fifth Avenue on right- Click to enlarge?
Another way of getting a sense of how big a building might replace the Mid-Manhattan Library is to judge by the colossal amount of energy and resources that are very strangely being devoted to pushing the Central Library Plan through.  When all is said and done, the Central Library Plan provides virtually no benefit for the NYPL or to the public it is mean to serve.  More correctly, it should probably said that it is destined to end with the NYPL significantly worse off than it started off.  In the end:
    •    The NYPL will have reduced the space of two major libraries of significant stature, Mid-Manhattan and the Science, Industry and Business Library, representing an aggregate of about 300,000 square feet of library space, and squeeze the those two libraries into just 80,000 square feet in the back quarters of what has hitherto been the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, a world-class institution.

    •    In that process another 80,000 square feet of space will be sacrificed and lost, the fabled research stacks of the Central Reference Library, an integral part of the building’s Carrère and Hastings design, structure and function.

    •    As Mr. Christensen's testimony also pointed out, the entirety of the space that is intended to replace the Mid-Manhattan and the Science, Industry and Business libraries will be accessed through one small door deep within the 42nd Street building.

    •    The shrunken space housing the remnants of the two former libraries of stature will be non-expandable.  This is despite the fact that:
    •        SIBL was completed (and sized) at 160,000 square feet in1996, only a few years ago, and
    •        the previous plan for Mid-Manhattan, last in effect in 2003, called for almost doubling its size by adding another 117,000 square feet.
    •    Much of the research collection of the Central Reference Library will become highly inaccessible as it is moved to storage in Princeton, New Jersey.

    •    The circulating and reference collections of Mid-Manhattan and the Science, Industry and Business Library will also be banished and, if kept at all, will become relatively inaccessible because the only way to shrink the two large libraries into such small space is to get rid of books and librarians.  That is why the NYPL is so busy working hard to get rid of books in preparation for the envisioned move.
All of this will be done at enormous cost, effort and years of construction.

The plan has still not yet been completely designed or finally costed out, but it is expected to run at least $350 million in public money, of which at least $150 million will be taxpayer dollars, altogether a likely a net negative for the NYPL after selling its real estate.  Would anyone care to guess whether $425 million is actually the more likely neighborhood of the figure that these total expenses come in at?

The CLP was conceived in 2006, perhaps 2005, according to NYPL Chief Operating Officer David Offensend.  It won’t be completed until at least 2018.  Are these things ever completed on schedule or on budget?

The deal will probably be a “stop-watch deal” (with the NYPL selling Mid-Manhattan only after completion of the CLP construction) so the condition of the real estate market and what Mid-Manhattan can eventually be sold for, the ultimately likely loss to the NYPL, will not be known for years.

And what will be the ultimate benefit for the NYPL of all this shrinkage and reduction of resources at such enormous expense?: Running much smaller shrunken-down library space with fewer librarians and fewer books will cost less to operate. . . .

. . .  Really?  Why go through such gyrations to achieve a purpose that is essentially antithetical to providing library services?  With money that could have been used to provide library services?

There really is no reason to be jumping through all these hoops, mobilizing such terrific energy, spending all these public and taxpayer dollars for such a stupid result.  That’s what ultimately causes us to infer, of necessity, that the building that replaces Mid-Manhattan is going to be a very, very big building.  Something must be fueling all this silliness. What else could it be?

(FYI: Citizens Defending Libraries has a petition now with over 13,000 signatures, most of them online, opposing the sale and shrinkage of New York City libraries to create real estate deals.)

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