Friday, June 26, 2015

Embarrassment of Past Riches!: Augmentation of NYC Book Space At Two Business Libraries Simultaneously- Only Recently The Brooklyn Heights Association Fought For Larger, Not Smaller Libraries

Click to enlarge if you dare- The Library-squashing tower that would benefit Saint Ann's private school and a developer if built, but not the public.
Do you know that in the 1990s, not so very long ago at all, New York City substantially augmented its library resources by spending to create more library space at two major central destination business libraries simultaneously?  And, if you rewind the clock, looking at one of those libraries, the Brooklyn Heights Association was in the thick of things fighting for more library space. . .

. .   Now, as fate (or the real estate industry) would have it, both of those central destination business libraries are besieged by those who would sell them, hand them out as juicy deals.

. .  And, for reasons that seem suspicious, the Brooklyn Heights Association now finds itself on the other side, advocating to shrink the library it once fought to enlarge.

The First Ever Hearing On Selling and Shrinking a Public Library- Running Into the BHA

Wednesday June 17, 2015 was the first ever hearing about selling and shrinking a NYC library, the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn's central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn on Cadman Plaza West at Tillary and Clinton, was held before the Land use Committee of Brooklyn’s Community Board 2.
Patrick Killackey, president of the Brooklyn Heigts Association now favoring the sale and shrinkage of Brooklyn's Brooklyn Heights Library.- From the Brooklyn Eagle
At the end of the hearing I approached Patrick Killackey, the new president of the board of the Brooklyn Heights Association, and told him the BHA was long overdue in following through to reconsider and change the position it took in favor of selling and shrinking the library, a reconsideration Killackey’s predecessor, Alexandra Bowie, said publicly the BHA might be willing to entertain when I questioned her as a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries at the February 24, 2015 annual Brooklyn Heights Association meeting:
"I will take that up with our library committee, which is how we operate, and if the library committee feels that it wants to revisit the question, then I will take it to the full board," Bowie said.
Bklyn Hts Blog: Who do you support?
The BHA’s original decision to support the sale and shrinkage of the library was rushed, secretive, lacking in public input and suspect in a number of ways.  We have asked the BHA to change course from the start, including at the previous, 2014 BHA annual meeting.  Back then, as well, it was very clear that public sentiment was strong on our side.

The last time I approached Mr. Killackey entreating that the BHA finally reconsider its position was at the May 9, 2015 annual Brooklyn Heights Association house tour where a majority of those on the tour wore our Citizens Defending Libraries “Don’t Sell Our Libraries” buttons.  Mr. Killackey told me then he was “off duty.”

I am sure Mr. Killackey believed I came on strong as I approached him after the hearing, and I probably did as I was very annoyed that at the hearing the BHA had just delivered inane testimony in favor of selling and shrinking the library Ms. Bowie herself standing to read it into the microphone.  Mr. Killackey may also have felt beset upon under the circumstances, because the hearing that had just concluded was packed with people.  Setting aside those people whose salaries (via the real estate industry or closely analogous situations) depended upon the testimony being in favor of a library sale and shrinkage, the hearing testimony was virtually unanimously opposed to selling and shrinking the library, leaving the Brooklyn Heights Association an odd outlier.
People told me they left the hearing more passionately opposed to the library sale and shrinkages than when they arrived.  This was after listening to Brooklyn Public Library president Linda Johnson protest to a groaning audience that “the BPL is not in the real estate business.”  And it was after hearing the developer refuse to say what Saint Ann's school is being paid as a result of the library’s sale and shrinkage because, he averred, “it's a private transaction” . . .  even though it is driving a public one!

I told Mr. Killackey that the BHA should be meeting with Citizens Defending Libraries and that we could educate the BHA about what was wrong with their position and the way that it had been reached.  Mr. Killackey seemed insulted and told me that I didn’t know anything about him or what he already knew about the library sale.

Fighting To Properly Fund Libraries

We then got into a discussion where Mr. Killackey made the point that NYC libraries have always been underfunded and have always had to fight for funds.  I have had a number of discussions with various people recently and it seems to me that this is a talking point that people arguing for the sell-off and shrinkage of libraries are now using to contradict what we have made a point of saying: NYC libraries are being underfunded at an unprecedentedly low level as an excuse to sell them off.
The explanation for library underfunding!  It's easy to see: The generation of deals like this, the 50-story building replacing the Donnell library.  And the proposal to replicate the Donnell sale swindle with a 38-story building replacing the Brooklyn Heights Library.
If you see things the way we do then what seems to be a very hard thing to explain becomes easy to explain: You ask “why should a `progressive’ mayor be engaged in an unprecedented underfunding of the libraries in a time of plenty?” - Then you look at the huge luxury condominium tower proposed to replace the Brooklyn Heights Library, shrinking it down to one-third size, and you say that’s the answer staring me starkly in the face!  And the answer is all the more obvious when you realize that the real estate development team “lurking right behind the curtain” to build it is sending money to the mayor.  See:  Saturday, June 6, 2015, WNYC Reports Mayor de Blasio's "Furiously Raising Funds"- Including From Developers "Lurking Behind The Curtain" of Library Real Estate Sales- And WNYC's Money?

We Used To Fight For Funds To Expand Libraries: Business Libraries As Case In Point

Mr. Killackey is correct that there is a history of libraries needing to fight for their funds from the city, just as every department or entity seeking city funding fights to justify its case for funds.  But the libraries never before had to fight for funds so that underfunding wouldn’t be a reason to sell and shrink libraries.  Au contraire, in the past, libraries were fighting for funds to expand.  And fighting for funds to expand vs. fighting for funds not to sell and shrink libraries is  hardly an apples to apples comparison.
Two central destination libraries (the Downtown Brooklyn heights Library and SIBL) that were both funded at the same time, both with a special focus on business.  The facilities for library patrons were thus mightily expanded, an embarrassment of rishes.  And now both may vanish at the same time? 
Example?: A really good one is this very library that Killackey’s BHA is advocating be sold and shrunk.  In June of 1992 Crain’s New York Business was reporting about the expansion going on at this library.  The point of the article was that the BPL’s fight to fund the library was going to be more uphill because of competition as the city simultaneously went forward with another expansion of library space,  plans for the NYPL’s Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) at 34th Street in the former B. Altman’s building:
The usually subdued leadership at the Brooklyn Public Library is peeved that Brooklyn’s pre-eminent business library is being cast aside as city and state officials build a library that may duplicate work already done by Brooklyn Public.
Not to worry: Both central destination business library expansions were fully funded and completed in the end.
The BPL spent $5 million, the equivalent of nearly $10 million in today’s dollars, on its central destination Brooklyn Library.  Opened in 1962 with 90,000 books its collection was by then up, substantially, to 130,000 volumes, plus periodicals and other resource materials.  The library reopened Tuesday, October 12, 1993 in a no-cost-overrun renovation.  The library added new second floor space over two of its wings.  It involved a substantial gutting for the installation of upgraded mechanical, wiring, air conditioning and heating (an automatic system), energy efficient lighting, while providing and adding space for on-line computer services recognizing the “technological revolution.”  It alleviated what had been “a cramped atmosphere.”  (See: Heights Press: Library Reopens Next Tuesday, by Roanan Geberer, October 7, 1993 and Library Renovation is Moving Along, by Roanan Geberer, July 23, 1992.)  The Building (now 63,000 square feet) was thereby expanded “by nearly a third.” (See: The Phoenix, Expansion Work To Close Branch For 12-16 Months, Michael Armstrong, May 2-10, 1991.)

In Manhattan, SIBL moved forward to completion, opening in the spring of 1995.  It’s 160,000 square feet of new additional library space cost $100 million (consider adjusting that for an equivalent in today’s dollars).

Reverse Course On Both Business Libraries- Simultaneously?

The Crain’s June 1992 article discussed to what extent these two libraries competed with each other, duplicating services, but what library patrons got was investment and expansion of such services at both sites simultaneously.  Now, with a proposed concurrent sale of both libraries, library patrons would lose services at both locations simultaneously. . .

. .   In fact, part of SIBL has already been sold.  In 2012 the NYPL quietly sold off 87% of SIBL’s space for just $60.8 million.  What it sold off was space where books could be stored and readily retrieved from.  With the sale books disappeared from the site, most of what in the 1992 Crain’s article NYPL president Timothy Heally described as SIBL’s “overused . .  business and science collection” of 2.5 million volumes.  Librarians tell us many of these volumes now take appreciable extra time to retrieve for patrons because they are in Chicago.  According to Crain’s, SIBL was also “a depository for patents and government documents from not only the United States, but nations of the European Community.”  Similarly, the Brooklyn library enlarged in 1993 was a designated Federal Depository (and still is).

The unsold portion of SIBL that’s threatened by the NYPL’s announced intent to sell it, constitutes, just as it is all by itself, a very valuable viable library notwithstanding that so much of its book storage space has been sold off.  That’s even though SIBL now has far fewer books than the 90,000 volumes the Brooklyn library had on premises when it opened in 1962.  By contrast, in Crain’s in 1992 the NYPL bragged that SIBL’s book count was “20 times that of Brooklyn’s” and that it had “60,000 periodical titles.”

Visit SIBL at 34th Street and Madison and see what you find there.  It continues, in beautifully designed fashion, to have every imaginable resource that a library intended to provide a platform for and to work with computer resources is supposed to provide.  Although SIBL’s book count has been devastatingly diminished, it has expanses of currently empty shelves that could be refilled, this at a time when library circulation is up about 60% with almost all of that increase being physical, not digital books.

Knowledgeable About The Turnaround?

Mr. Killackey's thus-it-has-ever-been-so assertion that libraries have always had to fight for their funding with his accompanying implication that we are not now facing a new threat as their sale is blames on that underfunding, ignores that fact that throughout the Giuliani administration we were expending public funds to expand libraries.  It was only when the Bloomberg administration came in, also looking at selling off other public assets (schools, public housing, etc), that we made a 180% turnaround.  It ignores how the BPL’s minutes document that before the BPL was planning to sell libraries there was no backlog of capital library expenditures.  It ignores how the minutes of the BPL document that when the plans to sell libraries were being launched the BPL agreed with the city to defer and build up those capital repairs rather than fund them and that this was done in tandem with an effort to “strengthen the argument for” its “strategic real estate plan” to sell and shrink libraries.  All of this had been documented in Noticing New York, but Mr. Killackey seems unaware (.Sunday, August 31, 2014, Mostly In Plain Sight (A Few Conscious Removals Notwithstanding) Minutes Of Brooklyn Public Library Tell Shocking Details Of Strategies To Sell Brooklyn's Public Libraries.)
As Mr.Killackey says, I don’t know what he knows, but what he knows seems to ignore how, at approximately the same time, just after Bloomberg got his third term, he dramatically started cutting funding to libraries even as library use was increasing greatly.  The de Blasio administration, proceeding with library sales, has not restored those cuts.

When The BHA Fought For a Bigger Library and Smaller, More Contextual Buildings

too "bulky" said BHA
The expansion of the Brooklyn Heights library with the 1991-1993 construction effected an increase to the library’s space for which the Brooklyn Heights Association had been fighting for a number of years.  In 1985 when the Brooklyn Heights Association was fighting Forest City Ratner’s huge new One Pierrepont Plaza building planned for erection next to the Brooklyn library as too “bulky,” a deal was reached allowing the Ratner building greater height in exchange for cutbacks at its top and Ratner’s promise to give 12,000 square feet in the building to the library for it to expand into.  This sweetener was intended to deal with the overcrowding at the library’s adjacent site.  (See: Pact on Brooklyn Tower Reached, By Josh Barbanel, October 25, 1985.)  Ratner’s building was completed in 1988.

Library Space Promised to Sweeten Deals For Bigger Development- Not Delivered

Ratner’s 1985 offer of library space as a sweetener to induce approval for a bigger development is reminiscent of how in discussions of transforming libraries into mixed-use redevelopments there has been crass frankness about the manipulative offer of libraries as a “placating gesture” to get the public to approve greater development.  More recently, Two Trees Development offered the public 15,000 square feet of new library space in its BAM South luxury tower as sweetener for a substantial increase in the size of the permitted building, a deal handed out to it from the city by the Bloomberg administration that, like the 1985 Ratner deal, was given away without a bid.

Interestingly, Ratner apparently was never required to make good on its 1985 pact for the libray space sweetener.  Similarly, on May 27, 2007 BPL spokesman David Woloch quietly confessed to CB2’s Youth and Education Committee that instead of providing the 15,000 square feet of library sweetener space in the BAM South project once promised, Two Trees would be giving just 2,500 square feet, one-sixth of what was originally promised.  (See: Friday, February 1, 2013, City Strategy Of Withholding Basic City Services To Blackmail Public Into Accepting Bigger Development.)

The proposed luxury condominium tower that would squash the library down to one-third size dwarfs the adjacent1988 Ratner tower and has no cutbacks.

At a June 10, 2015 BPL presentation to Brooklyn's Community Board 7, Mr. Woloch assured members of the Sunset Park Community that if its library is torn down for redevelopment into a mixed-use facility there will be no bait and switch, that what is promised will be built.  The Sunset Park plans were first disclosed here in Noticing New York with the BPL catching up to give out information afterwards.  In a sense there has been a victory in that for the first time since Citizens Defending Libraries has been on the scene a library being sold is proposed to be enlarged, in this case to 20,600 square feet, virtually the same size the central destination 63,000 square foot downtown library is proposed to be shrunk to.

Illusory Promises- One Reason the BHA is Wrong
Unfulfilled and unenforceable promises provide a perfect segue for talking about more of what is wrong with the Brooklyn Heights Association’s position to back the sale and shrinkage of the library.  A top reason the BHA gives for selling and shrinking the library is that, “proceeds from the sale will go to the BPL, which will use them to renovate other branch libraries.”

This is wrong on a number of counts:
    1.    As one of the CB2 Land Use Committee members noted there is no way to assure that net funds, if any, would actually go to such funding of other libraries.  There is no way to track it through or assure that New York City, to whom the money would go, would actually give more money to the libraries as a result.  The city could actually just give less overall to the libraries.  There is only the vaguest idea that morally money ought to come back to the libraries, but the libraries are already funded at an immorally low level, below what was compacted with Andrew Carnegie when he gave libraries to the city.  What's more, if low funding translates this way into hand-offs to real estate developers, we are only apt to see more of this kind of low funding in the future.

    2.    The BPL is being totally untransparent about how there will be virtually no net proceeds from the sale of the library.  It may wind up with a negative cash result.  The BPL is disguising, underestimating and refusing to acknowledge the costs that must be netted out of the transaction.

    3.    The proposed self-cannibalizing sale of this library doesn’t generate resources for the library; it involves a huge loss of library resources.  It would cost $60 million to rebuild the library building.  The building together with the land there and the rights to expand for additional public uses there mean the dollar value fo the library to the public is well over $100 million, probably around $120 million. . . and yet the BPL would net virtually nothing from a sale, perhaps less than zero.  (See: Sunday, June 14, 2015, Selling a $100 Million Plus Library For What? A Pittance! More Transparency Please.)
More On Why the BHA is Off Track, Including The Saint Ann's Problem

The BHA’s testimony also includes a reference to the private Saint Ann's School in weirdly suggesting with rather out-of-the-blue belatedness that perhaps there should be some negotiation for a larger library:
Given the recent announcement that Saint Ann's School will not purchase the space originally assigned to them, we urge the Brooklyn Public Library to consider negotiating with Hudson for additional space in the building. In the event that the underground space is unsold, we welcome Hudson's plan to excavate less of the site.
If the reverse-course shrinkage of this library is truly the colossal mistake most people think it is and the library should therefore be larger, or if in the future it's determined the library should be larger because the city, borough, central business district and surrounding residential neighborhood are all growing fast (which they all are) there is a problem: Stuck in the bottom of a residential luxury tower, the library can never be enlarged afterwards.*  Yet the BHA suggests negotiating for a larger library, but is ready to just shrug if those negotiations don’t work out?  Come now!  How contradictory can you get?
(* Sunset Park has a similar problem where a no-bid. behind-the-scenes process now puts that library on track to be put in the bottom of a residential, not a commercial, building, and also precluded the use of anther better site for the expanded library.)
Perhaps more important, the BHA’s mention of Saint Ann’s School in its testimony is deceptive.  It makes it sound like Saint Ann’s was paying for the space it was getting in the building rather, than as was the case, being paid with the transfer of that space for its development rights.  Remember the developer refusing to say how much Saint Ann’s is being paid?   The BHA’s wording also makes it sound like Saint Ann’s School was no longer going to be involved in the transaction, a misleading impression the developer and BPL apparently tried to foster right before the hearing.

If fact, it must be recognized that private Saint Ann’s School is getting a substantial pay day due to the fact that because the library, a publicly owned asset, is being sold and shrunk, Saint Ann’s can sell its development rights free-and-clear without the nuisance and cost of having to demolish and reconstruct its own building.

Who were the BHA’s library deciders, that core to the BHA committee that passed its judgment that the library should be sold and shrunk in this developer-pleasing transaction?
BHA board member library deciders conferring at the June 17th hearing- Both on the BHA's library committee- Right Alexandra Bowie who delivered testimony- Left Erica Belsey Worth high-end architect and Saint Ann's parent.
Alexandra Bowie, who operated with great secrecy at the beginning, was one of them.  Some years ago when Ms. Bowie was still President of the BHA and Mr. Killackey was still an unelevated board member, my wife and I tried to express concern about what Ms. Bowie had said to us about the users of the library that came to the library from the nearby projects.  Mr. Killackey was dismissive of our concerns.
Architect and Saint Ann's parent Inger Yancey- The Yancey's were an early founding family of Saint Ann's School.”
Other BHA board members who are library deciders for the BHA and therefore for the entire neighborhood that the BHA is suppose to represent?:  Erika Belsey Worth and Inger Yancey.  Both are architects.  Both are Saint Ann’s parents.  Ms. Belsey Worth designs for those with a more refined taste who can afford it. As for Ms. Yancey, reading the Brooklyn Eagle it is apparently a point of pride that:  “The Yancey's were an early founding family of Saint Ann's School.”   

Frankly, this is unfair and lacks proper process.

A Dead-locked CB2 Land Use Committee and A Declared End To Public Hearing Input While The Developer Continues To Lobby

After the hearing the CB2 Land Use Committee deadlocked and did not vote to approve the library sale and shrinkage.  One reason expressed by committee members was the lack of any true assurance that any funds, net or otherwise, from the sale and shrinkage would actually go back to the libraries.  That concern took hold despite the fact that the BHA blithely ignores that problem.  Another reason expressed was that the committee had previously voted not to approve any big new developments until the infrastructure problem of local school PS8, at 140% over capacity is attended to. .  It was recognized that voting to approve the transfer of the public land to build this tower would have overridden this stance established by the committee’s previous vote. . .

. . .  What we see is a worsening imbalance as we try provide the public infrastructure necessary to keep up with development as privatization of once-public assets accelerates with transfers such of these.

The deadlock was apparently unexpected, the BPL and the developer having timed their progress in requesting a vote to their belief that with behind-the-scenes lobbying they had locked up the votes they needed.

Hopefully the committee was also influenced in its vote by: The public testimony; the BPL’s total lack of transparency with respect to this and other proposed library sales; and the value of the asset being sold versus the insanely low price for which it would be sold off.

As the CB2 Land Use Committee debated its vote there was kibitzing from the some public in attendance calling attention to the fact that two of the CB2 Land Use Committee members are salaried employees of the BHA.  It was asserted that these two members should recuse themselves and not vote.  That’s an interestingly hard call to make because at that very moment those two  members seemed to be doing the right thing and making the right points about why the proposal to sell the library was a problem.  But if the two members who are employees of the BHA were to recuse themselves it could wind up in essentially the same place because a majority of affirmation votes is required for the committee to approve the sale and shrinkage and recusals, like negative votes or abstentions would all similarly subtract from that required total.

The CB2 Land Use Committee is going to be asked to vote on the proposed library sale and shrinkage yet again. 
June 12, 2015 CB2 Executive Committee meeting
At the June 12, 2015 CB2 Executive Committee meeting, CB2 Chair Shirley McRea announced that approval of the proposed sale and shrinkage of the library was being sent back to the committee referring to “an email from the board office.”  Chair McRae said that July 6th was being looked at for the date for the new committee meeting, but that they were having difficulty setting it up. Following the committee meeting she said it was planned that the full CB2 board would take up the matter July 15th.

Ms. McRae told the room:
Now the follow-up meeting to last Wednesday’s meeting, and everyone needs to be very clear on this, the public hearings are closed, There are no more hearings on the BPL.  It’s over.  It's done with.   It was done on Wednesday.  When this committee meets next it will be to do what they were supposed to. .  What should have taken place, what should have taken place at last Wednesday’s meeting without having sat there for three, four, five hours and then trying to come to some decision.  I just want everyone to be clear on that: It is not a repeat of the public hearing.  This is for the committee now to come together and do the business of the committee.
Maybe the “hearing” is technically over, but that Wednesday the 17th, immediately the hearing, the developer was lobbying the committee members to change their votes, so it is not as if the CB2 land Use Committee isn’t still hearing things from the developer.  Hopefully, they will also still be hearing things from the public and it would be nice if one of the things they hear was the Brooklyn Heights Association admitting their decision was seriously flawed and wrong and admitting to the position that we should not be selling and shrinking a valuable library for a pittance.

The BHA we should stand up with us and the rest of the community against these deals that don’t benefit the public, but do benefit private parties with private interests antagonistic to the public’s, a developer sending campaign contributions to the mayor and a private school.
Two Tom Otterness sculptures at the 14th Street Station on the A-Train.  Which way will the library struggles turn out? With book lovers on top?  Or with all our public wealth transferred to the monied interests who will dispense a few pennies as handouts?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

New Images of What Developer’s Luxury Tower Would look Like When It Kicks Out Brooklyn’s Central Destination Downtown Library, Stomps It Down To 1/3rd Size

Here are some new images, released in an information dump just before Wednesday’s Hearing (the 17th) on whether the public should approve the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn's central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn on Cadman Plaza West at Tillary and Clinton.

Guess what?:  The new tower is not the 20-story tower or the 30-story tower previously reported about in the press.  It seems to be 36 stories (perhaps, with super-high ceilings, the equivalent of a taller building) with leeway in its zoning envelope to grow.

Here, below, from the slick developer presentation the Brooklyn Heights Association chose to, and waited to be, a conduit of:

Here's a crop a little more in-between.
Here’s more information about Wednesday's hearing.  If you care about libraries and/or want to stand up to rapacious developers expecting our elected representatives to do their biding, not ours you should come, because you can make a difference:
Brooklyn Community Board 2 Land Use Committee June 17, 2015: ULURP Hearing- First Hearing About Whether To Sell & Shrink Downtowns's Brooklyn Heights Library (Tillary & Clinton)
Meanwhile, quite relevant to what’s unfolding, there’s an article in the Brooklyn Heights Blog about Saint Ann’s, a private school, and its transfer of library development rights to this development.  Saint Ann’s is taking cash and no longer taking any property for its involvement in this transaction. 

What is reported in the Blog does NOT mean that Saint Ann's won't be benefitting from the deal, or that the benefit to Saint Ann's won't continue to HELP DRIVE this deal: Saint Ann's, selling its development rights, will still be getting very substantial cash (with which it could even subsequently buy that cultural space condominium Mr. Kramer, the developer, offers in the Blog article)- This information comes out just days before FIRST EVER hearing this Wednesday.  That hearing starts the process to decide whether public approval should be given to sell and shrink a major NYC library, this one.

Previously it appeared Saint Ann’s was getting cash and property for its development rights.  That property could have been a 20,000 square foot student theater.  Based on these calculations, that theater (of "the an absurd public rip off") might have had a value of about $41.7 million.  So what is Saint Ann’s now getting?: That ($41.7 million) plus more cash?  Maybe $50-$55 million free and clear?  While the Brooklyn Public Library nets considerably below $30 million?  Perhaps effectively less than ZERO? 

If these guesses about who is really getting the most benefit, a private school or the public, seem unfair, remember that this is information that Citizens Defending Libraries (of which I am a co-founder) has asked be disclosed by the BPL.  The BPL devoted to its infinite lack of transparency has refused to provide the information. 

Here is more recent relate NNY coverage of the library sale:
•    Sunday, June 14, 2015, Selling a $100 Million Plus Library For What? A Pittance! More Transparency Please.

•    Monday, June 15, 2015, Municipal Art Society, Once Venerable, Becomes Platform For Disseminating Misinformation Promoting Development, In this Case Backing Library Sales and Shrinkage

•    Saturday, June 6, 2015, WNYC Reports Mayor de Blasio's "Furiously Raising Funds"- Including From Developers "Lurking Behind The Curtain" of Library Real Estate Sales- And WNYC's Money?

•    Saturday, June 6, 2015, Real Estate Deal Revelations In Scott Sherman's New "Patience and Fortitude" About NYPL Central Library Plan Fight: Observer-Owning Kushner Family In At Outset of Donnell Sale

Monday, June 15, 2015

Municipal Art Society, Once Venerable, Becomes Platform For Disseminating Misinformation Promoting Development, In this Case Backing Library Sales and Shrinkage

Linda Johnson speaking to her MAS audience about libraries as real estate- Pictures of the event are up on Flickr
I used to be a member of the Municipal Art Society.  I used to routinely encourage others to become members as well.  But now. . . .

I actually had a sort of extra-specially identification with the Municipal Art Society, a “born under the same star” thing.  The Municipal Art Society, with a long venerable history, was given birth to “in the wake of the World's Columbian Exposition, when the Great White City in Chicago ushered in” a new era of expecting more and better for New York in terms of its urban design.  Those are interests of mine.  My father’s paternal grand parents, Mr and Mrs. Peter White, were key in establishing and running the Irish Village that was part of that same 1893 Columbian Exposition, and their coming to the United State to do so is how the White family arrived here from Ireland.
Mr. and Mrs. (Annie) Peter White and the Irish Village at the Colombian Exposition
I don’t know that this gives me greater or lesser rights to be irked with what the Municipal Arts Society has become, but , like many others, I am mightily riled.  As it happens, a MAS board member told me ahead of time about the 180 degree turn around that for MAS that was intended.  Not everyone has perceived it yet, but people are fast catching on to what’s happened: Once part of the fight against such abominations as Atlantic Yards, (“the poster child for what goes wrong when process is ignored. . . a poorly designed project that has polarized the community and that squanders both opportunity and public trust”), MAS now goes out of its way to give multiple bogus awards for such developer-driven blighting of the city.

MAS Puts Its Weight Behind Library Sales and Shrinkage- Somewhat Deceptively
The 63,000 square foot Brooklyn Heights central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn.  The admired bas-relief murals are by C Spampintato.
At MAS’s February 26, 2015, Annual Members Meeting, MAS has continued to adulterate its its brand promoting, rather than holding to account, unbridled development, this time giving Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson a platform to pitch unchallenged for another prize currently being eyed by the development community: sale and shrinkage of libraries to transform them into real estate deals.  These deals benefit the developers they are handed out to, not the public.

As BPL President Linda Johnson spoke at the annual meeting MAS already had the Brooklyn Heights Library sale up and prominently featured on its website “Watchlist.”  There the proposed sale was advertised, not accurately, but as a developer would probably prefer to have things described to stay low on the radar screen and sidestep public opprobrium.
    •    The description says that BPL is `partnering' with a developer to build a 20-story condo building  on the site of the Brooklyn Heights Library.’  Was that correct?  No, not really.  Although something of a black box with the developer saying he is `starting from scratch' on the design and with no rendering furnished to the public showing all the available development rights being used, this building was last stated in the New York Time to be 38 stories tall, not “20-stories.”  (The release of this non applicable but apparently very multi-purpose rendering accompanied earlier statements by the Times that the building was going to be 30 stories.)

    •    The description said this joint venture will provide BPL with a more modern library “on the ground floor.”  It doesn't say that it will be a vastly shrunken library providing fewer functions, only 21,000 square feet (of which only 15,000 will be above ground- “on the ground floor per the description) vs. the existing 63,000 square feet.  The Business and Career functions of the library will be banished from it.  Books will be exiled.

    •    The description said that the sale will provide the BPL with “an additional $40 million,” a figure only achieved by deliberately low-balling and not disclosing all the costs and public losses that need to be netted out.  In actuality, in selling the library and shrinking down this $100+ million asset to one-third size to benefit the developer, the BPL is likely even losing money when all is considered.

    •    The description said that the money netted from the sale will be “put towards maintaining and restoring other libraries in the borough.”    In actuality, the money from the sale goes to the city and there is no assurance that it would ever be returned to maintain and restore other libraries. The only obligation to do so would be a moral one, and since the city's current unprecedentedly low funding of the libraries is already immorally low there is no assurance such moral suasion would work.  Quite the contrary, since the current low funding levels go back to the introduction of plans for low funding to justify such self-cannibalizing funding schemes, if low funding leads successfully to the sales that real estate industry salivates for there will actually be an inducement to continue such low funding level to provoke more such sales in the future.
Here is the complete language of the MAS-published pitch for the project:
Brooklyn Public Library
BPL has partnered with Hudson Companies to build a 20-story condo building on the site of the current branch library at Cadman Plaza. This joint venture will provide BPL with a more modern library on the ground floor, as well as an additional $40 million to be put towards maintaining and restoring other libraries in the borough. This innovative project is part of broader trend of leveraging development to pay for civic assets.
BPL Linda Johnson Presumes When Speaking To the MAS Audience She Should Be Talking Real Estate

Johnson, in her calibrated pitch to the MAS meetings audience began, right off the bat, with an assumption that real estate was the most important part of what she was going speak to them about:
I am pleased to be here. I feel sometimes that I'm speaking more about real estate these days than I am  about literacy, . . . 
And was careful, continuing, to assure that other concerns were driving her focus on real estate (announced to her board as her top priority when she started at the BPL):
. . . but we need to actually address the real estate issues in order to deliver the services that the library is striving to do.
Attentive to the Fact That Size Matters

Ms. Johnson later similarly soothed the audience about how she cares about adequate library size when she explains that libraries built during the Lindsay era that are "on average 7500 square feet which is woefully small."  Ms. Johnson doesn't tip her hand to the audience to say that one of contradictory priorities was to shrink such a "woefully small" 7500 square foot library in Red Hook down to just 5,000 square feet in a privatizing handing off 2000 square feet of the library to Spaceworks in a scheme that deserved and got a lot more scrutiny from the local community than Ms. Johnson wanted.

Ms. Johnson indicated that she is attentive to the concept that "because of the way neighborhoods have changed" there are "libraries that are over-served and under-served" as a result.  That principle enunciated in the abstract may have lulled the her hearers when she got around to saying that she was going to be shrinking down to one-third size a key destination library, the downtown Brooklyn Heights Library in one of the fastest growing neighborhoods and business districts of the city's fasted growing borough.

A Plan For One Million Square Feet of Real Estate

Before she actually tells the gathering about the Brooklyn Heights library deal she acknowledges something ominous: That the BPL made a deal with the Bloomberg administration (now being carried out by the de Blasio administration) with respect to "over 1,000,000 square feet of real estate" used by the library ("It's actually owned by the city of New York The library is its custodian").  She says:
We said to the city if you give us this kind of money [capital funding], this kind of funding, we'll do our part as well.  And we will do the best that we can to use the assets that have been entrusted to us to take care to take care of them, in other words, try and leverage the properties that we have to the full extent.
Of All Things To Tell a Municipal Art Society Audience! 
Book ends?:  Brooklyn's two central destination libraries, the Downtown Brooklyn Heights Library and the Grand Army Plaza Library, were both designed by the same famed architect, Francis Keally.
That's when she progresses to the subject of selling the Brooklyn Heights Library and progresses to an assertion quite ironic for her to state before an assembly of Municipal, Art Society patrons:
The Brooklyn Heights library which has been in the press a fair amount recently . . . was built in the early 1960s and it's an aging library that's no longer really doing the kind of job that it should be. There is nobody that I have heard yet who has argued that this is a building which is architecturally important or historically significant.
No one has argued that "this is a building which is architecturally important or historically significant"?  The Library was designed by Francis Keally, who designed the borough's other esteemed central destination library at Grand Army Plaza.  Francis Keally was also, in his time, the president of the Municipal Art Society.  Keally was not only an admired architect; he fought for preservation of valuable, beautiful older buildings and their neighborhoods.  As MAS president, he fought for the passage of the laws that eventually would protect them.  Landmarks historian Anthony C. Wood writes in his 2008 book, "Preserving New York":
Francis Keally stressed that what was at stake "goes far beyond Washington Square and the Village."  He asked his audiances to imagine a New York where a skyscraper had been substituted for the Church of the Ascension, or where the south side of Gramercy Square was built up "to smother the sky."  Noting the loss of the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, he paints a picture of a New York where Trinity, St. Paul's, St. Bartholomew's, St. Patrick's, and St. Mark's-in-the-Bouwerie have all gone "the same way."
Keally's concern about building up on the "south side of Gramercy Square . . . to smother the sky" makes one think of Ms. Johnson's assertion that one good reason to tear down Keally's library to build a tower (perhaps 38 stories) that will loom over Brooklyn Heights from its edge is to "improve the skyline."  When the first Landmarks Commission was appointed pursuant to the law that Keally had been instrumental in passing, Keally was on Mayor Wagner's nominating committee to suggest the appointments.  The commission was appointed in 1962 the same year the library opened.
Ms.Johnson posing at the MAS event with Vin Cipolla, a successor as MAS president to Francis Keally, who helped usher in era of preservation.  Cipolla that night gave Johnson a platform to advocate for the destruction of Keally's library.
Landmarks and Libraries

Contrary to Ms. Johnson's dismissiveness of Keally's architecture for the design of his second destination library in Brooklyn, both the New York Times and the New York Herald instantly pronounced the library as "handsome" when it opened, the Times saying it was a "clean-lined limestone building of two stories, with book sacks below ground" and the Herald describing it as "limestone-and-red granite." 
The admired "sculptured figures at the glass-pannled entrance" are  "the work of C Spampintato."

Further, although Ms. Johnson ventured to quickly tell the MAS assembly the building was not "historically significant," a good precaution if you suspected that any of the MAS old-timers might be around, behind the scenes the BPL had already engaged in measures to prevent the Landmarks Commission from recognizing as historic any libraries it wanted to transform into real estate projects and this library was a top such target on the BPL's and Johnson's list.  According to BPL minutes from February 2009, in a rather frank acknowledgement that the system works in ways we often pretend it doesn't:
Landmarks informed BPL that they had completed their survey of our branches and found that we have 8 branches that are potentially eligible for designations as landmarks.  The Committee [Capital Planning & Oversight Committee, co-chaired by Sharon L. Greenberger and Alice Fisher Rubin] recommended that in response to Landmark's request to prioritize these branches, the Library will respond that we are conducting a comprehensive analysis of our real estate portfolio and would like to wait on any decisions on landmarking individual sites until the Board has reviewed and approved the findings of the analysis.
Ms. Johnson, the BPL and Landmarks have been less than transparent about this.  Citizens Defending Libraries (of which I am a co-founder) have requested via Freedom of Information (and basic transparency precepts) the communications between the BPL and Landmarks about these libraries: It is just one of many things the Johnson and the BPL have refused to make public.

A Sturdy Library With a History
The Keally library is 63,000 feet of extraordinarily serviceable (and adaptable) square feet.  That includes two half-floors of underground space that, similar to the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, were set up to hold books for easy on-the-spot retrieval.  Echoing the 42nd Street library, an “automatic conveyor belt” helped deliver books more efficiently.  To say that the building is sturdy is an understatement: When it was built, it was built with space set aside for a bomb shelter with the thought that people could go there to be protected against a nuclear attack.

The air-conditioned building was built in 1962 (at a cost in today's dollars of about $20 million) and opened with a collection of 90,000 volumes.  In 1991 (completion in October 1993) it was enlarged and upgraded (at a cost in today's dollars of about $10 million).  Then, additionally, a reclamation of the space people once thought might be used as a bomb shelter added even more space for books.  (The book count was 130,000 by 1992.)

The library was built intending to serve all of Brooklyn and, being the only library addressing certain business needs and functions (“the only library in the city” for such needs), was intended to draw patrons not only from all of Brooklyn but Manhattan, including lower Manhattan’s Wall Street right “across the river.”  As well as accommodating staff according to earlier, kinder standards the BPL does not now want to meet, the building has rooms used as conference rooms and more rooms that could be similarly used.  Its construction involved “special workrooms for business researchers,” including cubicles.  Wanting to give the library over to development (secretly since about 2007) the BPL has not adapted or made these spaces available for the kinds of uses the public would likely appreciate.
When it opened, the library's “collection in depth” included books “dating from 1786.”  In one irony- I'll explain below- one of the antecedent libraries that was combined to become this library opened “in 1823 with a wheelbarrow load of books” and when “General Lafayette laid the cornerstone of the building” Brooklyn resident Walt Whitman, a child then, “was present and was kissed by the general.”

 To read more of the articles from which the above quotes come, see New York Times, Brooklyn Library, Open Today Is rich In Business Information, by Sanka Knox, June 1, 1962 and New York Herald Tribune, In handsome New Home- Brooklyn Business Library Opening, by William G. Wing, June 1, 1962.

Urban Renewal and Some Unfortunate Ironies

The 1962 library was built using urban renewal to lower the density of this area of Brooklyn Heights and the border of Downtown Brooklyn.  That same urban renewal bull-dozing destroyed Walt Whitman’s print shop on Cranberry Street.  What remains now is the vague attachment of a name, “Whitman Close,” to some urban renewal townhouses near that spot. While it's strange the way these untethered names can float away from history, there is another example: Johnson told her captive MAS listeners that by selling off the $100+ million* Keally library the BPL hoped to have just a few dollars to spend on other libraries in its system, naming as one of them, the “Walt Whitman Library,” less than a mile’s walk of about 15 minutes away.
(*  Johnson told the audience that "The value of the property was not clear to us at the time, but through an RFP process we determined that it was worth over $50 million."  The problem is that out of that $50 million the BPL is likely to net virtually nothing or less, and what price a developer will pay for the land in this kind of process in not representative of what the value of the building and the land is to the public.) 
This citing of other libraries that will supposedly benefit is a divide-and-conquer strategy on the part of the BPL as it tries to push through its destruction of the Keally library.

The “Walt Whitman Library,” which is near the Navy Yard serves those living in the surrounding projects who also regularly use the Brooklyn Heights Library to a very great extent.  One of the insidious little secrets behind shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library is that there are those who view the shrinkage as a way of making it a library just for the increasingly upper-crust Heights and disinviting visitors from other neighborhoods who are not desired.  See: 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.

Plan To Move On To Other Libraries

Part of the lack of transparency on the part of the BPL is its refusal to release the “strategic real estate” plan, the formulation of which involved hiring a former Forest City Ratner vice president, Karen Backus, who then prioritized for sale two libraries adjacent to Forest City Ratner property, the Pacific Branch and the Keally Brooklyn Heights Tillary Clinton Library.   The plan deals with all the BPL real estate, which they say they want to “leverage” all of, but one thing its secrecy means is that, again in divide-and-conquer strategy, the public doesn’t know which libraries are next.  Ms. Johnson frequently denies that there is a list of libraries to move down, the most valuable at the top.  But she gave the MAS listeners (who probaly thought sale of the Keally library as she described sounded great) a clue that the BPL would be moving down the list, saying that the Heights Library sale and shrinkage is:
a model now that we are taking and looking at how we can tweak it to see if there are other examples in the borough which might benefit.
ULURP Starts Wednesday

She explained that the BPL was hopefully going to “get to ULURP soon” with the plan “in the works.”  The start of ULURP is the commencement of process required for public review and to obtain approval if the library, owned by the city as public property, is to be sold and shrunk.  She was speaking in February.  ULURP (Uniform land use Review Procedure), likely an extended process, is now scheduled to begin for this proposal this Wednesday, the 17th.  See:
Brooklyn Community Board 2 Land Use Committee June 17, 2015: ULURP Hearing- First Hearing About Whether To Sell & Shrink Downtowns's Brooklyn Heights Library (Tillary & Clinton)
Libraries as Spear Points To Push Development
Is there any extreme to development that MAS would still oppose?  Some, maybe, it seems.  In his presentation that night Justin Davidson asked about super-super tall towers: Who owns the sky?
Meanwhile, in discussions, forums and reports that Ms. Johnson has praised as consistent with her aims, the provision of new or better libraries has been described as bait, or `placation,' to induce communities to accept upzonings to accommodate development.  Consider for example the Clinton Hill Library.

One plan to convert a library into a mixed-use development opportunity that was flushed out after I wrote about it here last August in Noticing New York is a plan for the Sunset Park Library.  Ms. Johnson spoke specifically about it next.  The BPL plans to make the Sunset Park Library. larger, in part because the community demanded it if there is to be any redevelopment.  It is planning to make this library on the R Train line 20,600 square feet or bigger, close to the same 21,000 square feet that it wants to shrink the Brooklyn Heights Central Library down to.

I’d like to consider that this proposed larger size for the Sunset Park Library is also because of the sunlight and focus that Noticing New York and Citizens Defending Libraries brought to the process.  As for what the original redevelopment plans for Sunset Parks were, going back to at least 2009, the BPL won’t release them indicating some embarrassment.

Libraries That Can't Grow With the City

Unfortunately, part of what the BPL is doing is saying, divide-and-conquer fashion, that the Sunset Park enlargement will theoretically be paid for out of selling the valuable central downtown Keally library.  Also, unfortunately, like the Brooklyn Heights Library, the proposed new Sunset Park Library will be in the base of a residential building and can never be enlarged afterward.  Involving long closures both libraries are susceptible to bait-and-switch with the BPL already probably underestimating the cost of building the Sunset Park Library.

The need for future growth is one reason why, if libraries are ever provided in the future as part of a multi-use development program, they should be in the base of commercial buildings where (unlike residential buildings) the city publicly owns more of the building for future expansion.

Population in Sunset Park has recently surged 19%.  Upzonings were pushed through not long ago, but building to take advantage of it has largely not yet occurred.  There are new city proposals, essentially additional upzonings, whereby buildings permitted to be 8-stories on Fourth and Seventh Avenues could become ten stories tall if certain kinds of units being considered are provided in the process.

Bows to Mayor's Development Deputy
MAS president Vin Cipolla and Deputy Mayor for Development Alicia Glen at the event
Also featured at the MAS annual meeting was Alicia Glen, late of Goldman Sachs, New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Development.  Ms. Johnson made reference to Glen’s presence and how redevelopment libraries would be part of the mayor’s plan to provide “affordable” housing units. That’s a stated reason for the BPL’s redeveloping both the Sunset Park Library and the Heights Library for 50 units and 114 units respectively, the latter being done “poor door” fashion far away from fashionable, historic Brooklyn Heights.  MAS president Vin Cipolla, interviewing Glen that night, similarly proclaimed that MAS was behind the mayor’s focus on full steam development to produce “affordable” units although many others worry about how Mayor de Blasio assured the Real Estate Board of New York that virtually all the rules could be thrown out to make developers happy in the process.  That involves throwing out a lot of what MAS fought for in the past.
Ms. Johnson had many captive ears to hear her unchallenged pitch for why selling and shrinking libraries is good
Ms. Johnson concluded her address circling back to the real estate-not real estate theme with which she started: 
So libraries are, in fact, not only about real estate, but also mostly about the people, about the great work that our libraries do inside the buildings, and about literacy as it relates to our communities in the way we work today.
Unchallenged, Ms. Johnson left the appreciably-sized MAS audience with a very skewed view of what she and the BPl are up to.  Let’s hope that the MAS audience was far less gullible than Ms. Johnson would like to believe.

Addendum (added 6/18/2015): At the Wednesday, June 17, 2015 hearing referred to above, MAS sent a representative to testify in favor of this building (below- more images here) to replace and shrink the Brooklyn Heights Downtown Library made public in an information-dump, ULURP certification 48 hours before the hearing and being described as a 36-story tower in that information dump and the next day by the architect in the New York Times as a "38-story tower."


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Selling a $100 Million Plus Library For What? A Pittance! More Transparency Please.

Click to enlarge

“It’s public land and public facilities and public value under threat. . . and once again we see, lurking right behind the curtain, real estate developers who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties”

That’s the mayor in 2013 as a candidate for election speaking about the tragedy of selling off and shrinking our public libraries, transforming them into real estate deals that benefit developers, not the public.  One of the libraries about which Mr. de Blasio was speaking was the Brooklyn Heights library, Brooklyn’s central destination library on Cadman Plaza West at the corner of Tillary and Clinton.  The Brooklyn Public Library is pushing a proposal to turn it into a luxury condominium tower.
Brooklyn Heights library, Brooklyn’s central destination library on Cadman Plaza West at the corner of Tillary and Clinton
The proposal involves a vastly shrunken so-called “replacement” library of minimal size.  The current library is 63,000 square feet; the proposed “replacement” just one-third, 21,000 square feet.  The current library has about 38,000 square feet above ground, the proposed “replacement” just 15,000 square feet above ground.

This coming Wednesday, June 17th, a hearing will commence the process required to decide whether to sell and shrink the Brooklyn Heights Tillary Clinton Library.  This will be the first ever hearing on such a sale because one was not required or held with respect to Donnell sold in 2007, or the now besieged 34th Street Science, Industry and Business library.  Here’s information about the 6:00 PM hearing:
Brooklyn Community Board 2 Land Use Committee June 17, 2015: ULURP Hearing- First Hearing About Whether To Sell & Shrink Downtowns's Brooklyn Heights Library (Tillary & Clinton)
I urge everyone who cares about this city to be there.  (This library is also intended to serve lower Manhattan.)

Probably because the sale does not make sense from the public’s point of view and is proceeding as a boondoggle hand-off to a developer, the Brooklyn Public Library and EDC, the city real estate development corporation that serves developers, is proceeding with an extreme lack of transparency.

This extreme lack of transparency extends even to BPL’s refusal to provide basic information about how much the public is losing and how little the BPL is selling this asset for, including all the costs that should be netted out of the sale.

There many things to consider about what is being lost if this essential amenity is transferred out to a developer looking to make millions, even including the park space and trees surrounding the building and the sale of the public’s light and air. (Urban renewal was once used to bring this site to a lower density in order to have that light and air.)  We have given some consideration to this before:  Tuesday, October 7, 2014, The Public Loss of Selling And Shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library- How Great Will the Loss Be? Let's Calculate.

And the BPL has already been asked to identify the costs of selling the library which they have refused to do: Thursday, October 9, 2014, Open Letter To Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson and Friday, February 6, 2015, Open Letter To Brooklyn Public Library Trustee Peter Aschkenasy Re Commitment to Provide Information About Library Sale.

Now, the weekend before the hearing, it is probably time to fill in the gap and supply, in basic bookkeeping terms, some fundamental calculations of the dollar value of the asset the BPL is selling and, in dollar terms, how that sale of this asset at a pittance, netting perhaps less than nothing, will be a loss to the public.

We also have a some new information to work with despite the BPL’s efforts to be totally opaque.

The Dollar Value of Just the Library Building Itself

The Brooklyn Heights central destination library is 63,000 feet of extraordinarily serviceable (and adaptable) square feet.  That includes two half-floors of underground space that, similar to the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, were set up to hold books for easy on-the-spot retrieval.  To say that the building is sturdy is an understatement: When it was built, it was built with space set aside for a bomb shelter with the thought that people could go there to be protected against a nuclear attack.

The building was built in 1962 (at a cost in today's dollars of about $20 million) and opened with a collection of 90,000 volumes.  In 1991 it was enlarged and upgraded (at a cost in today's dollars of about $10 million).  Then, additionally, a reclamation of the space people once thought might be used as a bomb shelter added even more space for books.
Downstairs space set up to hold books for easy on-the-spot retrieval
It is therefore relatively safe to say that based on these original costs the book value of the library building alone is in the approximate neighborhood of $30 million.

That’s one starting figure. . . 

What if a new library were reconstructed in the bottom of a luxury tower?  The BPL tells us that reconstructing a new, much smaller library of only one-third size (21,000 square feet) to replace the library will cost $10 million.  But previously they said it would cost $12 million.  Making these low-ball costs all the more suspect and fanciful, the BPL is proposing to sell the library, locking in this extreme shrinkage to an exact footage, without even bothering to design a new library first (let alone engage the public in determining its library size needs).

Actually, putting this vastly shrunken 21,000 square foot library in the bottom of the luxury tower for which there are still no public designs either will probably cost more than $16 million.  Yes, $16+ million.  That’s based on the costs of “replacing” (and shrinking) the slightly larger Donnell Library.  That construction has announced overruns although it still isn’t complete and may not be complete until 2016.

That would mean that replacing the Brooklyn Heights Library full-scale in a luxury tower would cost the BPL (and the public) about $48 million.  That would wipe out entirely what the BPL is being paid to sell the library.  Why?  Because the developer is only paying the BPL a gross price (before we calculate any losses) of $52 million.  And, if the library were being replaced full-scale, all of its 63,000 square feet in the bottom of a luxury tower, the developer would be paying the BPL substantially at lot less than that $52 million gross figure.  The developer would pay less because the developer would be buying less, a smaller balance of development rights, and because it would have to bear a higher cost to build the shell in which the library would build its new space.  (According figures from the BPL’s spokesperson, the developer may be spending about $10 million now.  Three times that amount would be substantial.) 

It has long been known that the NYPL’s sale of Donnell effectively amounted to a loss of millions of dollars of public library assets.  The sale of this library is closely replicates the sale of Donnell with an overlap of people involved in the planning.

Selling public assets for the benefit of developers is more expensive than everyone might immediately suppose.  Unless the BPL plays these shell games (and that involves having to shrink the library as part of the game) it quickly becomes apparent how much the public is losing.

The BPL refuses to give figures, but if the BPL were putting a full scale replacement library in the bottom of the luxury tower it would be costing the BPL around $48 million just for the rebuilding costs . . .  And the developer would also then probably be paying far less than $30 million gross price.  Result?:A very substantial loss.

There is a much better way to evaluate the public dollar value of the building that we are losing in this sale. That’s to consider the cost of erecting a free-standing building on the site today.  One reason that’s important?: Because, whatever size library is put in the bottom of a luxury condominium, that library can never be enlarged afterward.  The current library is enlargeable: Owned by the city, the city can build on the site to enlarge the library or construct for other public uses as the city grows as it and the neighborhood is doing very fast now.

If the BPL erects a free-standing 21,000 square foot replacement library at the site of library, it would cost $20 million according to library spokesperson David Woloch (at the 6/10/2015 Sunset Park Library redevelopment meeting).  Constructing a full-scale, free-standing 63,000 square foot replacement library would cost $60 million.

One might argue, as the BPL promoting the sale no doubt would, that such a library would be newer and "state-of-the art" and that the dollar value involved would not yet be subject to any depreciation to reflect any aging of the building.  On the other hand, one of the things that is thwarting the te BPL in its arguments for selling its building to a developer is that the Brooklyn Heights library was built to last.  It's a case of: They don’t build them like they used to.  As much as the BPL would like to neglect the building and drive it into the ground, fail to clean rest rooms, or make the aspects of the building superficially unappealing, the building frustrates them with its solidity.  Crazy enough, it was meant to be still standing if there ever was a nuclear war.

The BPL has fallen all over itself in silly efforts to exaggerate the building’s current needs. Principal among these efforts has been the BPL’s refusal to repair the air conditioning and its exaggerations that fixing the air conditioning could cost almost $5 million or that making the building pristine and new again could cost around $10 million.  But the BPL has refused to release the information that is available about previous assessments that contradict what they are saying about the air conditioning repair needs.

The BPL initiated plans to turn this (and other libraries) into a real estate deal with a decision that goes back to at least 2007.  Its plan wasn’t announced until January 2013, a year before Bloomberg left office.  The air conditioning conveniently went out of commission six months before the planned announcement of sale where air conditioning problems would be cited as a reason for the sale.

$30 million? $48 million? $60 million?  Those are figures for the dollar value of the library building alone.

But you can’t get a library just for the cost of building the building.  You have to also buy the land and own the development rights. 

The Dollar Value of the Land Under the Building
What is the value of the land under the library that we must include as part of the dollar value of the public’s ownership of the library?

The developer is paying a gross price to the BPL of $52 million so the value of the land and development rights that must be added to value of the building is surely at least that.  But the developer isn’t paying to buy all the land or all the development rights so the actual figure is higher than that.  How much then to the $52 million should we add for this?

In addition, what the developer is paying includes a discount for other costs like the cost of demolition.  The public won’t incur any cost of demolition if it retains the library so that adds to the public value of land the public retains.  How much then to the $52 million should we add for this?

The developer is also incurring perhaps $10 million in costs to build the shell for the shrunken replacement library, in effect an additional part of the purchase price paid to the library.   How much then to the $52 million should we add for this? $10 million?

The developer must also rent space for a tiny temporary library (7,500 square feet) for the four years or so the BPL expects it may take to build a shrunken replacement.  How much then to the $52 million should we add for this?  In the case of Donnell, rent for the tiny cramped interim library beginning when Donnell closed in spring 2008 was pursuant to rental lease terms calling for “payment of $850,000 for the first year (with possible increases thereafter).”  - How much then to the $52 million should we add for this?

In the case of Donnell, outfitting that tiny cramped temporary library cost the NYPL, “nearly $5 million.”   One thing that is not yet clear at the moment is whether this outfitting expense would be a cost borne by the BPL (i.e. public), thus an additional public cost of the transaction, or by the developer, in which case it would be an extra factor raising the value of the land and development rights.

The developer is also incurring other costs in buying this land.  Contributions to politicians and elected officials including Mayor di Blasio should properly be considered an additional cost to buy the land and development rights.  When the developer pays his architect more so that his architect can send money in the mayor’s direction, that too should properly be considered an additional cost to buy the land and development rights.  How much then to the $52 million should we add for this?
In fact, it should not be considered that the developer is buying this as unencumbered land in the normal sense.  Because it is a library that the public values and because this deal will properly arouse anger and suspicion with the public it comes with many hurdles, many toll booths that have to be passed through paying fees to high-priced lobbyists and lawyers to sell a  narrative skewed to and paving the road for the public and their elected officials to ignore the obvious math problems associated with this shortchanging of the public.  Among other things the sale will have to go through a multi-year process where the question must be evaluated whether it is absurd to sell this public assets netting virtually nothing.  How much then to the $52 million should we add for this?

How much then is the value of the land and the development rights to the public?  The value of the land that will appreciate in the future?  The development rights that can be used for future expansion and public good?

Somewhere between $65 million and $100 million?  More?

Value of the Library Building PLUS The Library Land

The math above means that the dollar value to the public of the library plus the land it sits on with all accompanying rights is somewhere between a minimum of $95 million and a much higher figure?  That higher dollar value to the public figure could easily be $160 million or could be higher.  A higher figure won’t seem at all preposterous when you see the aggregate value for which luxury condominiums will sell.  In the case of Donnell the penthouse apartment in the 50-story luxury tower replacing Donnell is on the market for $60 million.  Several weeks ago another single lower-level condo unit in the building, 43A, sold for $20,110,437.50.  There is also a 114 guest room luxury hotel in the tower and earlier this year Chinese investors made that hotel, according to the Wall Street Journal, “the most highly valued hotel in the U.S.” after agreeing to buy it for “more than $230 million. . .  .more than $2 million a room.”

The design for the Brooklyn Heights luxury tower has yet to be released and various statements about its final true height have been misleading but one figure given in the New York Times says it will be a 38-story tower.  The developer has spoken of having extra tall ceilings to make it seem taller and give the apartments more luxurious views.

Netting the Costs Out of The Paltry Amount the Library Is getting for selling Off a $100+ Million Asset

The BPL states that it is getting a gross price of $52 million for selling and shrinking the library.  Out of this must be netted certain costs, most immediately the $16+ million to build the as-yet-undesigned “replacement” library, bring the net cash figure for selling the library down to less than $36 million.

From than $36 million much more must be subtracted.

The reduction in space will supposedly be associated with shifting the functions of the library, business and career functions that ought better to remain in growing Downtown Brooklyn, to cram them into the Grand Army Plaza library.  Will some/all of these functions actually just disappear?  No additional space will be built at the changed location so sacrifices will have to result.  It is not that many years ago a space expansion was required at the Grand Army Plaza library.  The BPL has acknowledged that cramming the functions in will entail substantial construction costs but refuses to furnish these cost to the public. At one time the BPL president Johnson said they were irrelevant and should be ignored and another time BPL spokesperson Davis Woloch said the BPL simply doesn’t know what those costs will be.  Shrinking a library before designing it?  Selling a library before knowing the costs of doing so?  Is this lack of transparency or total stupidity?

Some of the reductions at the Brooklyn Heights Tillary Clinton Library will also have to be taken up by other BPL facilities.  Are those costs and sacrifices similarly unknown and unevaluated?

There is the cost both to the public and to the BPL of keeping books off-site and moving them around and these costs can be far heftier than the BPL acknowledges.  There is the cost of moving to a temporary library.  The cost of moving back.  The possible cost of outfitting the temporary library ($5 million like Donnell?).

There is the cost to the community of going without any sort of library for a projected four years and associated disruptions.  (Donnell has turned into possibly eight years.)

These figures which the BPL will not furnish or account for could easily wipe out the paltry $36 million remaining.  It could readily adjust the miniscule “net cash” situation taking it into deep negative territory.  That’s a problem for the BPL, which is trying a divide-and-conquer, smoke-and-mirrors strategy, trying to convince other communities that they will be benefitted by the squandering of these library assets.  The BPL is trying to convince these other communities that if a library is handed out as a prize to a developer this first time with the central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn that their own neighborhood libraries won’t similarly come up somewhere, next in a public-be-damned transaction as the BPL moves down the list in its plan that we know looks at “leveraging” all its real estate assets.

Factoring In the Smaller Library In Calculating the Loss

But to be fair, the BPL is not selling off the entirety of its assets at this site when it sells the library for this shrinkage plan.  With a new library one-third the size of what exists now it may be thought of as selling off somewhere in excess of two-thirds of its assets, not the entire asset.  In excess of two-thirds because, with the development rights transferred, this library can never be enlarged again if the community grows or if the shrinkage turns out to be the mistake that most people have judged it to be.

Math-wise, in dollar value terms, selling off more that two-thirds of the library amounts, based on the previous figures, to selling off $63+ million to $106.7+ million in assets (2/3 x $95 million to $160+ million, plus an adjustment up for selling the development rights).  For this sale the library will get perhaps zero or less.

The smaller, shrunken library, forever to be a depressing reminder of this era of rampaging privatization and plunder would, albeit, have a value.  At the high end, the building’s value would be maybe the $20 million the BPL would spend if it were building a free-standing enlargeable building.  Since that’s not what the BPL is getting maybe we should subtract from that.

Added to that $20 (or less) million building value we must add some associated dollar value for part of the land.  Using the earlier figures that would come to less than $21.7 million to $33.3 million (1/3 x $65 million and $100 million, from which must be subtracted a substantial figure for the extraction of all the development rights).

In other words we would go from having a library with a dollar value to the public of between $95 million to $160+ million, to having a much smaller library with a dollar value to the public of substantially less than, at best, $41.7 million* to $53.3 million. . .
(* This figure may seem disproportionally high because it only uses the top-end figure for new construction.  Those who care about historical and landmark value are likely to view it as coming out too relatively high in the comparisons.)
. . . The bottom line is that we would have sold off $63+ million to $160+ million in assets either at a public loss or netting virtually nothing.. . . Bottom line, in a time of increasing wealth, income and power disparities, this proposal will amount to a huge transfer of capital assets from the public realm to the private.

I believe I have not been unfair in supplying any of these numbers.  I think the unfairness is that the BPL has refused to provide such numbers.
Book ends?:  Brooklyn's two central destination libraries, the Downtown Brooklyn Heights Library and the Grand Army Plaza Library, were both designed by the same famed architect, Francis Keally.

Affordable Public Housing?

The library location of the proposed new luxury tower- Downtown and on the edge of fashionable, historic Brooklyn Heights- Beside a park and near the Promenade
One last factor in the mix?  Like the building of many other luxury towers the developer will seek to build a bigger, taller luxury tower by building, “poor door” fashion, a few “affordable” housing units (114 altogether) in very different locations in the Community Board 2 district.  It is another example of using people’s desperation for affordable housing as bait to strip communities of their assets and drive wedges between different groups.  In doing the calculus, what sort of value should be given to these units?  Good question.  But, if you want to ask that question, then you need to ask another question: Should our libraries be sold off to produce a few units of “affordable” housing?  Because, if so, there is enough need for affordable housing to start selling off all our public assets and libraries would wind up being only a small part of the total inventory of public assets that would be seized and privatized before that need was ever satisfied
"Poor Door": One location where a few "affordable" units would be built resulting in. . .
Another location where a few "affordable" units would be built
Meanwhile, in other privatizing plans very reminiscent of these attacks on libraries, the Mayor is looking to sell our public housing assets.  That includes proposing to shed 14,000 units of public housing from the inventory.  Well after we loose all those units we could pick up few again by selling all the libraries?

Who benefits from these shell games in the end?  Surely not the public.