Wednesday, January 11, 2017

As NYPL Senior Execs Present Pretty Pictures To City Council Of Expensive Mid-Manhattan Do-Over Renovation They Neglect To Mention One Thing: Rush To Immediately Sell SIBL (at a suspiciously low price?) To Very Interesting Buyer

On December 14th senior NYPL officials (lower right) testified before the City Council Library Committee (upper left) and did not mention that in a few days they were selling SIBL (lower left)- read for more surprises
Wednesday, December 14th senior NYPL officials, President Tony Marx, COO Iris Weinshall- Senator Schumer’s wife- and Chief Branch Library Officer Christopher Platt, were presenting pretty pictures to City Council library committee members of the proposed redoing of the Mid-Manhattan Library (that the NYPL is now calling a “campus”).   What they neglected to mention to the City Council members they addressed was that if any of those City Council members were readers of the real estate press they were almost immediately about to hear, reported in the Real Deal (December 28, 2016), about the NYPL’s rush to immediately sell SIBL, the NYPL’s 34th Street Science, Industry and Business Library. . . .

. .  And the Science, Industry and Business Library is being sold, at what could be criticized as a suspiciously low price, to the kind of tycoon who could easily hold his own if slipped into a James Bond script.    

This library sale is woeful indeed.  One thing that the NYPL officials were telling the City Council members was that SIBL, already an exceptionally well-used central library, was, with the Mid-Manhattan renovation, about to get a slew of new patrons who will appreciate just how marvelous a library it is.  It’s getting those patrons because the NYPL is choosing to renovate Mid-Manhattan by closing it down entirely for a period of years even though the central destination Mid-Manhattan is its most used circulating library in Manhattan . . . . NYPL officials say they think it is actually the largest circulating library in the country. Mid-Manhattan will be closed, however long it takes to renovate, with or without construction delays.  The NYPL currently expects, without delays, that period of closure to be two years.  And all those library patrons who use it will have to go someplace.  SIBL, in the former B. Altman department store building, is only a six block walk down Fifth Avenue from Mid-Manhattan.
SIBL, the state of-the-art "Library of the future" completed in 1996 at a cost of $100 million
To spend time at SIBL is to love it.  SIBL’s increased use for this extended period of time is virtually certain to further build up the constituency dedicated to preserving SIBL and to heighten awareness as New Yorkers seek to hold accountable any elected officials willing to participate in the folly of selling it.  That folly includes the NYPL’s intention to do away entirely with the science library SIBL now houses (notwithstanding that the 'business' portion of SIBL would theoretically `continue' consolidated with Mid-Manhattan).

Is this increase of love inevitably destined to come from the public the twisted reason for the NYPL’s rush to sell SIBL?  The NYPL is selling it quite awkwardly, years before the as yet unpredictable date when it can deliver possession to a buyer. And what comment might have ensued if the NYPL had more transparently spoken of the imminent sale to the City Council members or to the public in the room that day?

If you want to read about the real estate deal that sells SIBL and get into some juicy analysis about whether the price received was too low, skip to the second section of this article.  If you want to savor in near disbelief biographical details that would make it easy for the gentleman who has turned up as SIBL's buyer to be interpolated into a secret agent adventure story, skip to the third and last section of this article.  If you want to read about the reason those things are coming to pass, the NYPL’s background plan for an architectural book-shedding redesign of Mid-Manhattan in a consolidating shrinkage that gets rid of SIBL, you can proceed reading right away below.

The NYPL Plan To Renovate Mid-Manhattan

To be fair, the NYPL’s plans for Mid-Manhattan are not all that bad if you don’t mind expensive and you don’t mind getting rid of books.  You also have to not mind scrunching in after getting rid of a lot of library space, and not mind getting rid entirely of the science library housed at SIBL along with the NYPL’s cessation of its collection of science books.  (This is at the very same time that there is consternation that the incoming Trump administration may purge archives of federal agency science data, e.g “temperature of the planet from weather stations, from satellites, from ocean buoys” and other information, especially if there is not a robust “environment that supports libraries.”) Lastly, you have to not be bothered by concerns about how the switch over from readily available physical books to an introduced interface of library electronics brings to the fore recurring concerns about surveillance and the elimination of libraries as private spaces for freedom of thought.

As for not minding expensive, you have to not mind spending a currently estimated $265 million (as of the date of the hearing) on this Mid-Manhattan fix-up it at a time when the city’s library administration officials are crying poverty and citing underfunding as a reason to sell major libraries. That $265 million number is, according to COO Iris Weinshall, for “the entire Midtown Campus,” out of which she told the council members they were “pretty confident” they could do the Mid-Manhattan building renovation for $200 million, what the Wall Street Journal and Times reported, and the NYPL trustees were told November 16th when they were told the renovation budget was coming out to $855.6 p/s/f.  That’s despite construction increases in the past.
NYPL Trustees November meeting meeting where Mid-Manhattan designs were presented before they went on to City Council
The higher $265 million figure involved also covers additional expenses for concurrently handled and related changes for the 42nd Street Central Reference Library.  Nevertheless, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer began the hearing referring to the overall project as “a $300 million project” where “we want to see the funds spent correctly.”  The NYPL’s website also refers to the overall “Midtown plan” as costing “$300 million,” that final $35 million difference apparently involving expenditures on other libraries (perhaps even SIBL before it is sold) affected by the plan and picking up the slack for Mid-Manhattan’s multi-year shutdown.
Click to enlarge- NYPL's website: "The Midtown plan is a $300 million project to completely renovate and update the Mid-Manhattan Library, and to create increased public space, including for researchers and for exhibitions, at the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street."
Overall, in line with my testimony given at the hearing as co-founder on behalf of Citizens Defending Libraries at the City Council hearing, the plan can be looked at as a very expensive way to get rid of SIBL and get rid of books.  And the drive to get rid of books has to be looked at as suspect, and as an experiment that may not work out.

The NYPL has been unwilling to say precisely how many books are disappearing which would require a census going back before the plans were concocted and before book eliminations commenced.  We know that, just at SIBL, over one million books have been banished.  When the NYPL presented its plans to the public the night before going to City Council, its officials were unwilling to say how many books would be in the renovated Mid-Manhattan versus what had been available previously.  The renovated Mid-Manhattan is to be a consolidation of itself, SIBL (without the Science Library) and the erstwhile Donnell Library.  The next day when City Councilman Daniel Garodnick probed about the book number, the NYPL said they couldn’t be exact, but would get exact information in the future while giving numbers that hovered around 400,000.  The Wall Street Journal article on the new design reported that Mid-Manhattan would hold 400,000 books and other circulating materials.
Click to enlarge- Two views of the special five floors of book shelves reached by walking aerially through the atrium.  On right: at the far left of cross section view.  And on the left.  The shelves would be at the widest part of the library, using a soft of "leg" that juts off to go all the way through the block, from 40th to 39th street.   
One of the clever aspects of the new Mid-Manhattan design is that, in order to house at least the reduced number of books that the NYPL hopes to in such a greatly contracted amount of space, a limited portion of the library, an area where most of the books will be, will be built specially much like the brilliantly designed research stacks of the 42nd Street Library under the famous Rose Reading Room, which were designed for maximum efficiency in getting requested books up to the readers.  Mid-Manhattan have is to have five floors of these stacks, which because of their shortened height would replace what would normally be three regular floors. . . (There are seven floors of stacks, now empty, under the Rose Reading Room that cover a vastly larger area and intended to hold three million research books.)
Don't like having books?  Architect from the Mecanoo firm presenting to the NYPL trustees at their board meeting tells them of the library's book shelves (pointed to): “They are not structural, the shelves, you can take it away later if you want.”

. . . But if you are worried that there already too few books going to be housed at Mid-Manhattan by virtue of this arrangement, consider what the Mecanoo architect for the plan said when she was presenting the Mid-Manhattan stack design to the NYPL trustees: Sounding as if she was nervously alluding  to some sort of difference of opinion, she told them: “They are not structural, the shelves, you can take it away later if you want.”

So the bookshelves are regarded as possibly just temporary?

However clever the creation of this special section for books in the library might be, it has the flaw of not integrating the books with the population using the libraries.  The books would be reached by walking gangplanks crossing intervening atrium space allowing for the grade change.   Making the most of the light in the atrium (or teasing the lightheadedness of those prone to vertigo) the ramps across would have clear glass bannisters.  The books set aside in the book section are meant to be “browsable,” but if in browsing you discover certain books you want to spend a few extra minutes studying there won’t be a nearby table to lay them out for closer inspection and you may feel hemmed in among the shelves unless you traverse back across the gangplanks.

The new Mid-Manhattan plan is clearly better and less expensive than the $500+ million Central Library Plan that preceded it.  That ill-conceived plan was derailed by the opposition of book lovers and activists opposing it, including Citizens Defending Libraries, which was a plaintiff in two of the lawsuits that helped stop it.  Helping to prove the proposition that the more you shrink libraries the more it costs to do so, the Central Library Plan would, at far greater cost than the current Mid-Manhattan plan, have shrunk library space even more drastically, extending to the total elimination of Mid-Manhattan as well as SIBL.  Headstones for those libraries could then have been set up in the library graveyard next to Donnell’s.

Otherwise, short on space with the shrinkage from the discard of SIBL, the new Mid-Manhattan plan conscripts basement space for public use that was previously not public. The underground is where the plan will put the teenagers in a teen center and younger children architecturally cordoned off from each other `because they don’t like to be together.’  Outfitting the basement for public use is not such a bad idea if you think of it as adding to the above-ground space at the Mid-Manhattan library which is not shrinking like the plans driving replacement literary space underground with the Donnell and Brooklyn Heights library sales.

If, instead, you think of the underground space as replacing SIBL’s spaces it is maybe not such a great substitute.  Moreover, this midtown teen center is not actually a new teen center, but, when it opens (projected now for the beginning of 2020) will be the long-awaited replacement of the teen center that was at Donnell, closed in the spring of 2008.  That Donnell teen center, newly renovated when the library closed, was not underground.  Previously, the underground space in the Mid-Manhattan basement was ancillary book-supporting space, so that is lost too.

When NYPL representatives presented the plans January 5th to Manhattan Community Board 5's Budget, Education and City Services committee, the community board members were told that the plan was giving the NYPL “35% more public space.”  But that is only approaches a vague level of `truthiness if you totally disregard elimination of SIBL (and Donnell before that).

When the community board members asked about what was being given up by the plan, “what are you giving up, what is not included in this new plan that is in existence now?” the NYPL representative told them “currently we are not giving anything up. . . there didn’t need to be any sacrifices.”   The NYPL’s representatives simply skipped over the fact that SIBL was being sacrificed, its whole science library component eliminated.  Nor did they mention the NYPL’s recent rush to sell the vast amount of public space at SIBL, all of it in pristine condition because it was so recently built.

Saying that nothing would be lost, The NYPL representatives `explained’ that the new plan would result in “way more technology,” without noting how technology already abounds at SIBL at a level the Mid-Manhattan plan is unlikely to recoup.  Extolling the virtues of the Mid-Manhattan Plan for a “dynamic state of the art library,” Elizabeth R. Leber, the architect from Beyer Blinder and Belle (Beyer and Mecanoo are the two firms working together on this) presenting the plan to CB5 members made much of the creation of “consultation rooms where you have one-on-one or two-on-two meetings, group sessions, working groups.”   Not mentioned is that these “consultation rooms” and “meeting rooms” are abundant at SIBL together with auditoriums and public presentation spaces, spaces the NYPL is pretty  keeps under wraps now.
Above and below, floor plans for SIBL: Tons of conference room, meeting room and auditorium space

When SIBL opened in 1996 it was written about as the “library of the future” and the “library of the 21st century” with the New York Times proclaiming that “even the smell of the place. .  emanates `future.`”

Similarly, even though queried, these NYPL representatives did not inform the CB5 members about, or in any way acknowledge, the drastic reduction in the number of books.  The NYPL representatives also did not want to address the interrelated question about electronic surveillance in reformulated libraries (they said they didn't understand the question).
From the NYPL CGI video of the new design, views of the envisioned roof deck
The new Mid-Manhattan plan makes a gracious gesture of opening up at the top of the building a new roof deck for public use, something that oughtn’t to be too expensive.  It should help counterbalance any feelings of campedness, while simultaneously addressing an obvious priority for libraries (just kidding about that concluding phrase).  Meanwhile, this gives the library some space to rent out for private social functions, something that has become a new priority at the NYPL with the NYPL regularly hosting high-society weddings across the street.  Asked by CB5 members about “revenue opportunities” by virtue of the changes being made, George D. Mihaltses, the NYPL Vice President for Government and Community Affairs, explained that the roof deck would likely have a cafĂ© for dining, but then said he didn’t “want it to appear that space was being created for dinner events, that’s not the purpose of the space; the primary purpose of the space is to serve the public. .  but when that space is not being used we have the opportunity to rent it out.”
Above, -click to enlarge- from the NYPL's online page inviting weddings, “The New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is rated Best of Weddings Venue by The Knot magazine.- Office of Special Events  212.930.0730 -” overlaid with two images with which the NYPL is touting the creation of the roof garden with overhangs so it is enjoyable no matter what the weather.
The CB5 committee voted to issue its general approval of the proposed Mid-Manhattan plan and figure out its problems with the plan afterward.  The reasoning for the vote was partly because the plan is considered an obvious improvement over the absurd Central Library Plan that the committee and CB5 had voted to endorse previously.
Click to enlarge- Presentation of NYPL Mid-Manhattan Plan being made to Community Board 5 committee
The NYPL is hawking its plan with new CGI video of how good the renovated library will look with the freshness of spotlessly new CGI generated carpet, glistening new surfaces still pristine bedecked in their first coats of paint, new CGI furniture perfectly arranged as only computer conceptualization can manage.  Imagined patrons walk about in dark, fashionable suits looking like those boutique hotel doormen whose dark suits are their uniforms (or maybe Neo in “The Matrix”).  The envisioning does not neglect to include a patron in a wheelchair on the roof deck talking (maybe?) to someone on a cell phone.

The renovation means that there will be an overdue cleaning of what everyone agrees is the building’s beautiful facade (covered by scaffolding until recently).  The building, once the Arnold Constable department store (1914), is roughly contemporaneous with the architecturally renowned 42nd Street reference library (1911) sitting kitty-corner across the intersection.  It is also roughly contemporaneous with the former flagship B. Altman department store (1906) that SIBL inhabits.

If we have the money, the Mid-Manhattan building facade should be cleaned. Fresh carpet and fresh paint are worthwhile expenses too.  The lack of timely and suitable basic maintenance tries the public’s patience. If we have the money to spend, our libraries should be gorgeous as well as functional. Hopefully, if Mid-Manhattan is renovated it will be maintained better in the future than it has been of late. As the committee closed on in its vote for the plan, one of the CB5 board members reasoned why she favored that vote, saying of the Mid-Manhattan building as presently maintained, “it just doesn’t have that spark.” Similarly, in connection with its vote, the CB5 committee head Layla Law-Gisiko said of the current Mid-Manhattan, “it’s a sad building, it’s an overused building.”  (emphasis supplied)

"Overused"?  As already noted, NYPL officials are saying it is the most used circulating library in Manhattan, and, they think, in terms of circulation, the largest circulating library in the country. . .

. . . A huge increase in use is projected.  The senior NYPL officials presenting the reasons the City Council members (and CB5 committee) should favor the plan predicted a significant escalation of use of Mid-Manhattan library after the renovation, citing as examples greatly escalated use of three libraries after other NYPL renovations: Washington Heights (visits up 47%, circulation up 46%), Stapleton Library on Staten Island (visits up 33%, circulation up 51%), and Kingsbridge Library (visits up 80%, circulation up 76%).  (Note the circulation increasing is made up of mostly physical books.)  If Mid-Manhattan’s visits can be be expected to increase shortly after renovations anywhere from 33% to 80%, (probably more with the demise of the well-used SIBL), the theoretical “35% more public space” and “extra seating” in Mid-Manhattan is likely to prove cold comfort.

If, sadly, Mid-Manhattan is alreadyoverused,” should we be selling SIBL and, with a substantial decrease in library space and resources, increasing the problem of that already recognized `overuse’?

Selling SIBL In a Rush and For a Suspiciously Low Price

What is the NYPL getting for giving up SIBL, a library which without any renovation, is already in perfect shape, already looking as purdy as some of the glossy sketches the NYPL is flagging for its Mid-Manhattan plans?  That’s something that really needs to be examined.

First, to be clear, the current rush to sell SIBL is a second rush by the NYPL to sell the remainder of SIBL.  The NYPL’s  first rush was in June of 2012 (the Bloomberg era) when, without prior public notice or fanfare, virtually without mentioning it all, the NYPL sold the part of SIBL that the public doesn’t see.  From a technical standpoint of just square footage it was the greater portion and it was sold for what then seemed like a low price.  Nevertheless, it wasn’t the space occupied by the public patrons of the library, and wasn’t, on a square footage basis, the most valuable portion of the space.

The first rushed sale, was in anticipation of and, indeed, a partial execution of the NYPL’s Central Library Plan, a plan that because it was then scrapped for its preposterousness two years later, May of 2014, never came to fulfillment at all.  One other foolish rush was involved, the foolish rush to banish more than a million books from SIBL which is what allowed the space holding most of those books, along with some administrative space to be sold.

Although SIBL has cost the public $100 million to put in place as a brand new state-of-the-art library in 1996, and although midtown real estate prices were making dramatic increases, five floors, a substantial majority of a “seven-floor” library (sometimes variously described as "eight" floors) was sold for a mere $60.8 million.  The 2012 transaction and that seemingly low price was discussed at length by in Noticing New York here: SIBL, NYPL's Science, Industry and Business Library Sold At An Unreported Loss To The Public (And an Elucidating Sideways Look At The BAM South Library Real Estate Games), June 15, 2013.

When NYPL president Tony Marx excused what seemed like that very low sales price of most of the SIBL space, that book shelf space and some administrative space, in 2012, he predicted that the sale of the remaining space would close the gap to make up for it.  That prediction was based on the fact that remaining space to be sold was very valuable retail space accessed by the public at street level

Now with the Real Deal announcing the sale of that retail space, reportedly “roughly 100,000 square feet” for $93 million, we finally know all the figures and can calculate exactly what the public is getting financially in exchange for its loss.
    Total 1996 all-in cost for SIBL $100 million

    Total 2012 sale price $60.8 million- $41.55 in 1996 dollars

    Total 2016 sale price $93 million- $63.55 in 1996 dollars
That's $105.1 million for this sale in adjusted for inflation 1996 dollars, meaning the NYPL came out just about even, a few pennies more (maybe enough to cover transaction costs).  It's not such a blatant squandering that the NYPL can be criticized it for unless you realize how much more than that the Manhattan real estate market has gone up in the intervening 20 year period.  Of course, rightfully, you'd have to consider writing off the costs of the improvements that where particular for making this a worthwhile library.  (Or, maybe not, as we will get to.)

Not adjusted for inflation, the combined sales were $153.8 million for an asset that originally cost $100 million, a 53% increase without adjustment for inflation.

According to the index for NYC condos the index was 268.2 in the fall of 2016 and 73.31 in May of 1996.  In other words those real estate values (not adjusted for inflation) went up 266% in those twenty years.

Here is a hard-to-read graph on Manhattan Luxury housing prices from Bloomberg for roughly the same period.
Here is an article with graphs from "Real Clear Markets" with similar findings - Not surprisingly, as density and building continue the value of land escalates faster than the value of condos within buildings on the land.

This year we have in the New York Times:  A Record-Setting Year in City Home Sales, by Vivian Marino, December 23, 2016
The average sales price of those properties - all apartments, co-ops and condominiums sold in Manhattan this year - reached a record $2.2 million, or $1,886 a square foot, according to a year-end market report by CityRealty, which tracks apartment sales. The previous record, set last year, was $1.9 million, or $1,735 a square foot.  [emphasis supplied]
(That links to a chart showing average p/s/f sales going from a starting point of 2003 Q1 of 551 p/s/f to 2016 Q4 1,845 p/s/f, a 235% increase.)
 In 1996 we have the Times reporting: Co-op Sales Rise In Manhattan, September 8, 1996:
At the same time, the overall median price for co-ops decreased significantly, to $298,500, compared with $372,500 in the second quarter of 1995, according to the report. While the impetus for the drop in median price was increased sales of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, prices for units of three bedrooms or more increased.
In other words from 1996 to 2016 the average price of a co-op in Manhattan went up 637% from $298.500 to $2.2 million.

This latest reporting on the space involved accentuates questions about what the original size of SIBL actually was and what portion of that each of these sales represents.  In April 24, 1996 the Times (Adopting Branch Libraries) reported that SIBL was “roughly 160,000 square feet in the former B. Altman building.”  But, in August 24, 1996, (Fire on 34th Street Snarls Traffic and Shuts Library), the Times reported “The Science, Industry and Business Library of the New York Public Library occupies nearly 200,000 square feet on the eastern end of the building.”  August 6, 1995, describing the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York bond issue financing the sale, the figure was stated by the Times to be still larger (plus, at least prospectively, adding an eighth floor): “in 213,000 square feet on the lower eight floors of the Madison wing.”  (emphasis supplied)

None of these figures is sufficiently large to encompass what the new sale of SIBL to Vulcan (“roughly 100,000 square feet” or $930 per square foot) plus the previous 2012 sale to the Pension Fund (“140,000 square feet and only the fifth floor is currently occupied” according to the Real deal- $434.23 p/s/f) would total out to: i.e. 240,000 square feet.  Perhaps the main significance of how large the SIBL square footage is calculated to be is to make clear how much library space is being lost.  Another side of the equation: The greater the amount of space being sold, the lower the p/s/f figure the library appears to be getting. . . . From either standpoint, it wouldn't seem to be in the PR spinning interest of the NYPL to exaggerate the amount of space involved at this point.

Retail Condo prices currently (looking at the Real Deal):
•    Zara's set a record for SoHo with a $20,588 p/s/f deal, $280 million for 13,600-square-foot ground floor of a newly created retail condo at 503 Broadway.

•    At 670 Columbus Avenue, located between West 92nd and 93rd streets at combination, ground floor unit plus 31,000-square-foot parking garage went for $1,728.57 p/s/f (retail space or )- a 36,000-square-foot retail condominium for $60.5 million.

•    At 147 East Houston Street- 1,105.77 p/s/f- a 5,200-square-foot retail condo for $5.75 million.

•    1273-1281 Madison Avenue, also known as 47 East 91st Street- 3,750 p/s/f - $30 million for 8,000-square-foot space (The condo last sold for $20.3 million in 2013)

•    Three retail condominiums just south of the World Trade Center (at 120 Greenwich Street at Albany Street) for 6,401 p/s/f - $35.5 million for 4,683 square feet of ground floor space and 863 feet on the lower level.

•    2460 Broadway, also known as 215 West 91st Street at $1,511 p/s/f-  $13 million for 8,600-square-foot space.

•    868 Broadway (currently leased by British footwear brand Dr. Martens) for $3,970.59 p/s/f- $13.5 million for a 3,400-square-foot space.

•    145 Greene Street, at Houston Street, $4,000 per square foot- $9.75 million for the nearly 3,000-square-foot property - "well above the median price for commercial condos in the area, which is $1,824 per square foot, according to PropertyShark." (I don't pay $70 per month to subscribe to PropertyShark so I haven't duplicate the median price info this Real Deal article supplied.)

•    2008 Broadway near West 68th Street, Lincoln Square- 37-year master lease interest $70 for $2,160 p/s/f-  million for 32,400-square-foot commercial condo, 22,000 square feet of selling space with rest of the property's square footage housing storage space in the basement and mechanical equipment in the mezzanine level.

•    465 Sixth Avenue near West 12th Street - 46-year ground lease- for maybe $2,307 p/s/f for a 13,000-square-foot retail condo rumored to be in contract with another buyer for more than $30 million.

•    132 Mulberry Street, north of Canal Street in Little Italy for 1,049.22 p/s/f - $17.5 million for the 16,679-square-foot space (Which levels besides the ground floor of the six-story building are included in the sale was not immediately clear.)
To reiterate, the NYPL is selling the SIBL retail ground floor access condo for $930 per square foot.

A Very Interesting Buyer: Vulcan Development’s Paul G. Allen 

Above: A real James Bond movie yacht first owned by Adnan Khashoggi and used (as in the foreground) in the film "Never Say Never," the Sean Connery remake of "Thunderball"   This 85 m, 281-foot, 5-deck yacht was later the "Trump Princess" until the one-day-to-be- president-elect lost it as the result of one of his bankruptcies.  You want to call that a Jame Bond "yacht"?  See below.
I said at the outset that the new buyer of SIBL’s magnificent space is a mogul intriguing enough to provide spice if included tales of panoramic international mystery.

If inserted into a James Bond movie, maybe the character would be like the “Willard Whyte” character in “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971), obviously modeled after Howard Hughes.  To say that Vulcan Development’s Paul Allen owns a specially outfitted (and almost immediately refitted) $250 million yacht that is the 14th largest in the world (126 m, 414-foot yacht, 8 levels, two helicopters, two submarines, one for ten people, an remotely operated underwater vehicle, “ROV,” a glass-bottomed swimming pool, a music recording studio and a basketball court, with a staff of 60), may not sound too impressive.  It is probably better to speak of his ownership of a fleet of three mega-yachts, more than one of which is among the world’s hundred biggest.
The Octopus via Wikipedia- By Metallion - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
A never-filmed, earlier-conceived ending of “Diamonds Are Forever” involved a climactic yacht chase, billionaires chasing billionaires in their yachts.  Too expensive and challenging to film?  Paul Gardner Allen could have supplied, no sweat, all the resources needed, forget about having to resort to cheesy CGI.

Allen’s largest yacht is the Octopus, which name might bring to mind the name of the 1983 James Bond film, “Octopussy” with a floating palace as one of its plot points.  Octopus was the world's biggest yacht when Allen bought it.  Does the fact that this yacht built in 2003 has already worked its way so far down the gigantitude list say more about the racing income inequality in our time or how yacht-building technology is racing ahead?
The Tatoosh via Wikipedia- By Intersofia - Own work, Public Domain, Link
Allen’s second biggest yacht is the $160 million, 92 m, 303 foot Tatoosh.  He just recently sold his third yacht, the 60m yacht Meduse, and a couple of years before that sold a fourth from his fleet, the 46.9m Charade.  Along with the yachts, Allen was one of the wealthy who owned a private island, accessible only by private transportation which he just sold, “Allen Island,” actually already named after someone else when he bought it.  How many James Bond films, beginning with the first, “Dr. No,” have private islands in them?  At least four and more if you want to consider mid-ocean oil drilling platforms an equivalent.  “Thunderball” was filmed on a private island, but that doesn’t count.

Allen’s private island was a 292-acre island in the San Juans off the coast of Washington state.  He traded it in for a 387-acre peninsula site on another nearby island.
Above on left,from the Smithsonian, SpaceShipOne.  On the left, via Wikipedia, a more conventional aircraft to own, a Boing 757.- Konstantin von Wedelstaedtderivative work: Altair78 - This file was derived from  Icelandair Boeing 757-200 Wedelstaedt.jpg: , GFDL 1.2, Link
Along with the fleet of ships go some serious flying machines.  There’d be air cover in the event of a war! (Your fleet should never be without it.) Private jets have included a Boeing 757 he sold to Donald Trump, our president elect. The fictional Willard Whyte in “Diamonds Are Forever” has his space toys, launching satellites and, by virtue of an almost impossible-to-explain plot point, even had a “moon buggy” on the premises.  Paul Allen is an investor, joint venturing with what is now a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, in SpaceShipOne, the first private spacecraft, a vehicle capable of  suborbital flights into outer space 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth, attaining extraordinary speeds and then landing again on a runway after reentering the earth’s atmosphere. .

. .  Now, with his own aeronautics company, Vulcan Aerospace, he has been secretly building the world's largest airplane, a twin-fuselage Goliath as wide as a football field and bigger than Howard Hughes's famous Spruce Goose.  This is likewise a bid to be able to get into outer space more routinely and less expensively with rockets “air-launched” from the plane at 35,000 feet.   Allen owns Captain Kirk’s chair from the original “Star Trek” series.
Flying Heritage Collection website
Allen also curates and oversees a collection of restored WWII war planes (including a Curtiss Tomahawk, a Messerschmitt 109, a Grumman Hellcat and a Spitfire), all in working order, at his Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, Wash. Also in terms of boy-toys, he owns several professional sports teams.

Paul Allen’s money, is rooted in his history as co-founder of Microsoft.  He has a multibillion-dollar investment portfolio including technology and media companies, with Forbes recently ranking him as #21 on its Forbes 400 list of richest Americans with an estimated $19.2 billion in wealth.  He pursues an interest in artificial intelligence and holds a number of patents.

Paul Allen might be acquiring the SIBL retail condominium through his Vulcan Development as just another real estate investment, planning to gut it and build something from scratch, but it's almost more consistent to imagine his acquisition of an entire science library with auditoriums and meeting spaces as the acquisition of one more fabulous toy.  Wouldn't the convenience of a sparkling venue dead-center in midtown Manhattan venue provide a superior lure, at least occasionally, for the upper echelons and celebrities he wants to attend his frequent parties who now, instead, have to helicopter off to his yachts?  (Allen may be feeling a tad depressed down right now with the death of Carrie Fisher because she was reportedly the one introducing him to the members of the Hollywood set he invited.)

Such parties held at SIBL might shroud it in mystery to which it has previously been unaccustomed: Allen is "so obsessively private" that "guests to his famously lavish parties have to sign non-disclosure agreements."  That's according to a caustic Daily Mail article that came out in 2011 when Mr. Allen published his autobiographical memoir: "Idea Man: A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft" that describes Allen as a "Gatsby-esque recluse" for the 20 years prior.  He was described in a blurb by a Time editor for another biography of him (Laura Rich's 2003 one below) as "the Loch Ness Monster of the internet age.”  . . 

. . . Although all recently checked out, there are three copies of Allen's "Idea Man" (a New York Times bestseller) that sometimes become available at SIBL.  A single reference copy of another biography of Allen, "The Accidental Zillionaire: Demystifying Paul Allen," by Laura Rich is available at SIBL for in library use.  The Daily Mail article notes another "sobriquet" in the U.S. press "the bitter billionaire," because of Allen's complaints about Bill Gates respecting what led to the breakup of their years together at Microsoft.

Wouldn't you think that more music recordings could get made at the convenient location of SIBL in NYC than the recordings Mick Jagger or the Beastie Boys have made on Allen's Octopus?  (Usher, Dave Stewart, U2, and Johnny Cash are supposed to have performed, not recorded the on the yacht.)  Allen loves music, socializing with invited musicians, and plays guitar and writes songs himself.  And SIBL ought to be so much more economical?  Octopus is estimated to cost $384,000 a week ($20 million a year) to operate.

But wouldn't SIBL, continuing its emphasis on science and even continuing as a library (it is still in a space where the CUNY graduate center library in the same building is supposed to act synergisticly on this basis), be a spectacular place for Allen to bring people together to discuss and explore the important ideas of science?  According to the Daily Mail article Allen once had a heart-to-heart with author Douglas Adams about exactly such a possible use of his money, bringing together "a group of 'brilliant thinkers' to dream up some great philanthropic endeavour." Allen had confessed to Adams that he felt frustrated with his wealth ("I've spent money on jets, boats. I don't know what to do next")  . .
. .  Allen's personal website, describing him as an "entrepreneur and philanthropist" says that he is "still exploring the frontiers of technology and human knowledge, and working to change the future" and that he is "working to save endangered species, improve ocean health, tackle contagious diseases, research the human brain and build sustainable communities."

Although Allen's various exploits assume command of many verging technologies, his focus seems to be steered by interests other than making money for money's sake.  It has been suggested that his "many millions" put into "more than 50 companies" have only dragged him down the rich list and that other investments would have been more lucrative.  Does that make him something of an altruist?  In 2015 he was given the Carnegie Medal for philanthropic efforts and "as a signer of The Giving Pledge, he has committed to giving away the majority of his fortune."  (As of now he has never been married.)

But here is what might be an even better, more stunning idea: What if Allen simply gave SIBL back to the public as a library, maybe calling on his friends to help replenish the books eradicated by the NYPL. If he returned it to the NYPL he could do so with an iron-clad stipulation that the NYPL maintain and not sell it off again, and to boot, that the NYPL stop turning its libraries into real estate deals impoverishing the public.  He could have an army of well-paid lawyers standing by ready to enforce those terms.

It would cost him comparatively little, just the sacrifice of his $93 million purchase price, insignificant compared to his $250 million Octopus, his $160 million Tatoosh, or the $20 million every year he is spending to operate the Octopus.  It would be 00.4% of the $19.2 billion fortune he has committed to giving away.

Why would Mr. Allen do this to benefit the public? . .

. .  Allen is the founder of Allen Institute for Brain Science established (2003) "to accelerate understanding of the human brain in health and disease."  From this, he is likely to understand the science surveyed by Scientific American, and written about on the front page of the New York Times specifically with respect to children, about how the brain learns better with physical vs. digital books.  That's notwithstanding how this institute's tackling of projects at the leading edge of science respecting the intersection of biology and technology may have something to do (in a very HBO-"Westworld" way) with Allen's also founding the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) to achieve breakthroughs in the ability of computers to reason, learn and read.  (AI2 was founded in the beginning of 2014, but Allen has been backing various AI ventures since 2001)

. . Allen is another one of the remarkable people in the world (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jane Jacobs being others) who has achieved what he has without a college degree; he dropped out of college.  Understanding what it is to be an autodidact Allen should appreciate all that libraries provide to those who teach themselves and set off in singular self-motivated directions of discovery.  More so, according to the Verge's reporting (when he launched AI2) of what is in his biography, Allen's father worked at a library and Allen marveled about libraries in his youth:  "He would tag along to his father's job at the library, overwhelmed by the information, and daydream about 'the sci-fi theme of a dying or threatened civilization that saves itself by finding a trove of knowledge.'"

. . Allen may also, because of his expressed interest in saving the environment and achieving sustainability, recognize that the solutions to problems like climate change and ocean acidification are not likely to come in the form of a “silver bullet” handed out “top down,” but from “myriad of approaches locally tailored and designed” with everyone participating in which resources  for discovery and self-education like libraries will be important.
Allen could even, possibly, make some money returning the library to the public. . .  This past July, Nick Pinto writing in the Village Voice wrote about how Google and a consortium of companies led by Daniel Doctoroff, Bloomberg's erstwhile deputy mayor in charge of real estate development, have been installing internet kiosks around the city seemingly for free, but Pinto warned, "Be Suspicious of Anything Free in New York City."  Pinto explained how the consortium would expect to make money from its product monetizing the data collected from the kiosk users.  Said Pinto: "as the old internet saw goes: If you're not paying for the product, you are the product." Allen could open up a library and then similarly collect all the data from the people using the library. . .

. .  But that privatizing effort, yet one more of so many multiplying encroachments of the public commons, would get away from the idea of libraries as we have classically esteemed them, places that should be zones of privacy where freedom of thought is protected.

Where do we go from here?
Biography page of Paul Allen's website: "Paul Allen has a question. And if you ever meet him, you'll hear him ask it more than once. What should exist?"- click to enlarge
Prominently on the bio page of Paul Allen's website it says:
Paul Allen has a question. And if you ever meet him, you'll hear him ask it more than once.

What should exist?
Here's the important answer we can deliver to to that question:  SIBL should exist!

But Mr. Allen is a man who has always been dedicated to looking into the future.  How easy it would be for him to be ahead of us already.  . . .

. . . Certainly, he is likely, longer than any of us, to have had his eye on SIBL, christened, from its inception, as the "library of the future." And isn't he likely to have been thinking about SIBL's future in the context of what he thought about libraries as a child?: how libraries, collecting troves of knowledge, can save "dying or threatened" civilizations?  Maybe giving SIBL back to he public is precisely the reason Mr. Allen is buying it in the first place.  Wouldn't supplying the public with a real working library that serves and takes our civilization on a more secure, clear-headed path into the future as we confront the unfolding vast mysteries of science be an even better trophy than owning Captain Kirk's chair from the bridge of the fictional Enterprise?