Saturday, June 6, 2015

Where Are They Now?: Sharon Greenberger, Evercore and the Revson Foundation- Selling And Shrinking NYC Libraries

Sharon L. Greenberger in government and now . . .  still selling libraries?
Sometimes coincidence seem just too frequent and sometimes it will surprise you where certain people will turn up.

Sharon L. Greenberger

Back last August I wrote a long article, the saga of the Brooklyn Public Library’s creation and pursuit of a “Strategic Real Estate Plan” to sell and shrink (“right-size”) its libraries, an article put together through the vantage of reading over ten years of the Brooklyn Public Library’s own minutes.   See: 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.

One of the BPL trustees who emerged as a fascinating spearhead pushing the plans to put library real estate in the hands of developers was Sharon L. Greenberger (the “L” stands for “Lee”) who was appointed to the BPL board by Mayor Bloomberg.  She was chief of staff for Bloomberg’s top development dog, Daniel Doctoroff, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding.

It was Ms. Greenberger who became the key designated leader of a BPL board task force created in the fall of 2008 to promote the "Strategic Real Estate Plan."  She regularly appears in the minutes pushing it forward. She is the one who introduced to the board Karen Backus, the former Forest City Ratner vice president, who was hired to create the real estate plan in 2007 and who in her task force role was responsible for coordinating with Backus and being a conduit for all board comments to her.  Greenberger’s committee in February 2009 also reviews whether to hold off on capital work that needs to be done at the Sunset Park Library, given that a secret “Revson Study” called for that library to become a “Mixed Use Real Estate” opportunity.

That “Revson Study” must be a pretty eye-opening one given that the BPL even now, years afterward, refuses to furnish it pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law as it is required to.


We’ll be back to Revson.

Back to Greenberger

February 2009 was also when Ms. Greenberg’s real estate committee is reportedly in communication with New York City’s Landmarks Commission to ensure that landmark designations don’t interfere with the real estate-related ambitions the BPL has for its multiple historic libraries.

Greenberg over time winds up in a fair number of other development and government related positions, all of which are interesting. 
Greenberger with NYU president John Sexton
For a while Greenburger was involved with NYU’s controversial expansion plan as Vice President of Campus Planning and Real Estate for New York University.  She was described as having “bolted” from it.  When she left to become President and CEO of the New York City School Construction Authority, Greenwich Village Historic District Director Andrew Berman  criticized her for her involvement in selling air rights to developers while at NYU and quipped that the same thing might now happen to NYC schools, something that ultimately proved to be a very valid concern. (See: Planning czar bolts N.Y.U. for Bloomberg schools job, By Lincoln Anderson, April 19 - 25 2006.

From the School Construction Authority Ms. Greenberger moved on to the Department of Education.  She left there in 2011 following the exceptionally brief troubled tenure and departure of Schools Chancellor Cathie Black, the Bloomberg appointee from the public relations world who had no education experience.

Greenberg wasn’t the only Doctoroff staff person to show up on the BPL’s board.  There was also Laurel Blatchford, a Senior Policy Advisor to Daniel Doctoroff before she moved on to become Deputy Commissioner for Strategy Planning, Policy, and Communications at New York City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).  She later was involved on the private sector side in events working towards the dismantling of the South Street Historic District.

If you read the previous longer NNY article it describes much more about how other Bloomberg operatives like Bloomberg Counsel Anthony Crowell another Bloomberg trustee and First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris, also charged with overseeing real estate matters for Bloomberg, were presiding over BPL governance matters in various ways.

Greenberger and Blatchford both overlap in their BPL board tenures, interestingly with another BPL trustee, Janet Offensend.

Greenberger showed up on the BPL board in December of 2004, appointed by Mayor Bloomberg for a five year term.  This is roughly the same time that Janet Offensend makes her first appearance in the BPL's minutes (September 21, 2004).  Ms. Offensend is interesting as another key BPL trustee associated with the BPL’s library sales although she didn’t get appointed to the board until the end of 2005.  Ms. Offensend shows up in the minutes about half a year after her husband David's assumption of the position of Chief Operating Officer at the NYPL where he would oversee the sudden, secretive sale of the Donnell Library in 2007 and the Central Library Plan, another massive boondoggle involving library shrinkage and the proposed sale of the Mid-Manhattan Library and SIBL, the 34th Street Science, Industry and Business Library, together with the destruction of stacks at the 42nd Street Central Reference Library and removal of its books.


David G. Offensend started as Chief Operating Officer at the NYPL in the first half of 2004, coming from Evercore, a private equity and investment firm that spun off from the Blackstone Group, an investment company which has, as just one of its many lines of business, the world's largest real estate investment company, and which is headed by Stephen A. Schwarzman.  Mr. Schwarzman transferred $100 million to the NYPL when it was his understanding that the Central Library Plan would then proceed with its plans to shed valuable Manhattan real estate.  Oddly, months before the relatively contemporaneous Donnell sale was publicly known, there was weird speculation in the press that Schwarzman and his Blackstone Group would be involved in an acquisition of Orient Express, the company that it was revealed had contracted to purchase Donnell when information about the apparently bidless sale came out.

Where Are They Now?

Where is Sharon L. Greenberger now?  Yes, she has been at New York Presbyterian, SVP for Facilities Development and Engineering. . .  But she can also be found on the board of the “Charles H. Revson Foundation.”

Remember that “Revson Study” the BPL won’t release?  That study about libraries converted into  “Mixed Use Real Estate Opportunities”?

Recently the Revson Foundation was one of a principal movers and funders behind “Re-imagining New York City's Branch Libraries” that set up an orchestration of “six interdisciplinary teams to present innovative design solutions for the challenges facing branch libraries.”
More than one set of these presentations was made.  I missed the first one that borrowed Brian Lehrer from WNYC to moderate.  I was at the one at the New School’s Furman Center on January 12th early this year.  That evening's audience was informed that materials were going to be put up the web, but they decided not to put up a video of the evening.  It could have been embarrassing in some respects.

At the end of the presentation, the moderating New School host, summing up, said the following:
And again, as the final presentation has shown, and we will see again hopefully, at the end a library is real estate.  It's an integral ingredient in urban development.  I've studied libraries for years, and many design projects around the country have found it's often a nice placating gesture in a real estate development. You want to do commercial development?: Put a library in it and you win a new public that you might not have had on your team initially.  So in short a library has many fronts and functions.
The last presentation referred to above had, among other things, shown, with accompanying diagrams, how provision of libraries could be exchanged for community approval of real estate development: A better, bigger library traded for an upzoning where it is built, or the upzoning of an entire area surrounding such a library based on the exchanged assurance that surcharges on the new development would be paid into the library system’s general coffers.  Anything paid in by what was referred to as such a “surcharge,” would, theoretically, have to not be subtracted out of the city’s budget on the other end. . . . but that virtually insurmountable problem wasn’t hinted at.
Let developers upzone and get a bigger library?
Libraries as `nice placating gestures' to `win’ public approvals for development? . .

. . . Such enticement plans could hardly work if the public felt that libraries were a basic public service they were entitled to no matter what- And wasn’t such public entitlement the deal Carnegie struck with the city when he donated most of the city's libraries?  It's a deal the city is now breaking.

The only way such enticement plans work is if the public is kept starved for libraries and starved for library funding.  That, perversely, puts people hoping to use libraries as pawns for lubricating development in the camp of wanting libraries perpetually underfunded or even on the brink of extermination . . .

Such enticement plans do not work if libraries, like police, fire and sanitation departments, are looked upon as inherent public goods that pay for themselves because the cost of doing without them would be greater.

The presenters at these “re-envisioning” forums were all propounding themselves as being pro-library and pro-library funding..

The entire evening of presentations, more than three hours even in incomplete form, and even before it was opened up for audience questions, served up some good ideas.  It also served up some silly ones and some other ideas that were ominous and frightening.

The talk about having fewer books at the libraries was far too cheerful.  There was talk about libraries that would be appreciably smaller, their “flexible” spaces less committed to traditional library use with the idea of cramming in multiple competing prospective uses.  One possibility focused on: “ephemeral” small temporary storefront libraries.

As I made the point when audience questions were permitted, when evaluating all of this, what gets thrown out as a smorgasbord mix of good, silly and bad ideas is less relevant than which of these ideas gets cherry picked for actual execution by library administration officials.  The panelist presenters were loath to comment when I asked them what they thought of actual plans materializing against the background of the cloud of ideas thrown up.  The plans we have witnessed actually materializing involve sale and shrinkage of libraries and elimination of books, all of this structured to benefit the real estate industry: Selling and shrinking central destination libraries like the Donnell and Brooklyn Heights libraries,* and similarly the Central Library Plan shrinking library space and eliminating books while selling Mid-Manhattan and the Science, Industry and Business libraries.
(* The first ever hearing about selling off a NYC library, this one, will be held Wednesday, June 17th.)
The fact is that the Revson Foundation, as with the too-toxic-to-release “Revson Study” about converting libraries to multi-use development opportunities has been suspiciously in the background and suspiciously aligned with supporting these development ambitions.

The Revson Foundation has prominently backed Spaceworks, a private firm, technically a not-for-profit, comprised of real estate and political insiders that has as one of its principal purposes the privatizing takeover of space to shrink libraries.  Spaceworks targeted as one of its first guinea pig experiments the shrinking of the 7,500 square foot Red Hook Library down to just 5,500 square feet.  This was although the Center For an Urban Future in a report funded by the Revson Foundation (and promoting their redevelopment) said, somewhat at cross purposes, that New York City branch libraries should be at least 10,000 square feet or more and notwithstanding that BPL President Linda Johnson, given a high profile platform to speak unchallenged at the Municipal Art Society, said that 7.500 square feet for a library was “woefully inadequate.”

The Revson Foundation has also partnered with Urban Librarians Unite, a group that has testified in favor of selling and shrinking libraries and that also supports Spaceworks.  It donated at a total of $32,000 to that group over the years of 2012, 2013 and 2014.

To find in addition that the Revson Foundation has on its board Sharon L. Greenberger, who as a Daniel Doctoroff city development official was key in structuring the BPL’s plans to turn all its libraries into real estate opportunities, is shocking.

Looking at the Revson Foundation board, there is something else to exacerbate concern: Evercore, the firm spun off from Blackstone that David Offensend co-founded and left to work at NYPL selling and shrinking libraries. Revson Foundation board member Stacy Dick was at Evercore overlapping with for a number of years with Offensend.

Greenberger now?  She's just arriving at another institution that caretakes appreciable other assets about which the public cares.  About a month ago the YMCA announced Ms. Greenberger is becoming its new president.  She starts in July.  See: YMCA of Greater New York Announces Sharon Greenberger as New President & CEO, April 7, 2015.   

Takeover of Charitable Boards By Wall Street Financiers With Not So Charitable Values
There is new study on the increasing dominance of Wall Street financiers on charitable boards:  "The Wall Street Takeover of Nonprofit Boards," by Garry W. Jenkins at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law.  See: Wall Street's latest takeover: Charity boards, by Robert Frank, May 28, 2015.

As CNBC’s Robert Frank summarizes:
the percentage of nonprofit board members in the study who come from finance has doubled since 1989. They hold an even larger percentage of leadership positions on nonprofit boards.
From the report:
As financiers come to dominate the boards of leading nonprofits, it is not surprising that their approaches and priorities have made their way, very explicitly and fundamentally, into the governance of the nonprofit sector.
Among multiple other critiques of the pitfalls of such boards the report notes that “numerous critics have written thoughtfully about the ways in which market-based thinking and approaches applied to the nonprofit sector provide false promise, with the potential to dilute charitable values” and “undermine long-term mission focus.”

Mr. Frank wraps up:
.. as the study makes clear, simply "following the money" may not be the best long-term strategy for today's most important charities.
This report and the Robert Frank summarizing of it apparently assume the good intentions of such dominating board members, their principal concern then being that the approach of such board members will be culturally misguided and insensitive to value that cannot be expressed monetarily

A May 30, 2015 New York Times Sunday Review Op-Ed, “Who Will Watch the Charities?,” by David Callahan, founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy, is far more caustic and cynical.  “(W)e should end the charade that all philanthropy is somehow charitable,” says Mr. Callahan.  He cites how earlier this year “a school reform group in Philadelphia offered $35 million to help that city close a funding gap, but demanded the right to open more charters as a condition and wouldn't disclose its donors.”  He warns a big problem with modern philanthropy: “how inextricably entwined it has become with politics and ideology.”  He says:
it’s alarming how in an era of high inequality, private funders have a growing say over central areas of civic life like education and public parks, and how this influence is often wielded against a backdrop of secrecy.
Mr. Callahan says that the secrecy can’t go on, predicting that it won’t, saying that as powerful institutions in American life charities need vigilant oversight.

I am not saying that the Revson Foundation has not done many things of value.  What's more I am sad to be questioning it at all as my aunt, Kay Daly, was Vice President of Revlon in charge of advertising and a close colleague of Revlon’s founder, Charles Revson Sr. who set up the Revson Foundation.  His son, Charles Revson Jr,. his son, is also on the Revson Foundation’s board.

Revson Board

I’ll leave it to the reader to study and try to discern how and by whom influence gets exercised on the Revson Foundation’s board.  I have not yet had time to do as much deep research as I’d like.

Does it matter that Sharon L. Greenberger is really more a development operative hailing from the Bloomberg administration’s Daniel Doctoroff days, than a financier and technically from Wall Street?

Does it matter that Cheryl Effron, a real estate developer on the board, has strong ties to the Bloomberg administration (see this from 2011):
In 2009 she founded Greater NY, a public-private partnership based in the Mayor's Office to engage fifty corporate executives in two-year one-on-one strategic partnerships with non-profit executives to develop new models for social service delivery in New York City.

    * * *

She is a trustee of the Mayor's Fund for the Advancement of New York City.
Does it matter that Jeffrey Goldberg on the foundation board is one of the columnists at Bloomberg View set up in May of 2011 as the editorial division of Bloomberg News, that is “an opinion product . .   to some extent, a reflection of its creator,” Michael Bloomberg, mayor at that time.

I invite my readers to investigate more.  These `where are they now' questions are indeed interesting, but where will WE be without libraries?   Wherever we are, we’ll probably be there without many of our other public assets as well. . . Because, if you can’t stop them at libraries, where can you stop them?
PS:  If it makes you feel any better- or worse- the Revson Foundation has given a great deal of money to WNYC radio which now has on its board MaryAnne Gilmartin, the head of Forest City Ratner (a gatekeeper for one of the library sales, Brooklyn Heights) and has recently run promotional spots that are essentially advertising for Forest City Ratner.

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