Key Stakeholders Respond About Proposed Brooklyn Heights Library Development

BHB spoke recently with Borough President Eric Adams, Alexandra Bowie, President of the Brooklyn Heights Association, Emma Woods, spokeswoman for the Brooklyn Public Library and Michael White of the Brooklyn Heights-based public watchdog Citizens Defending Libraries regarding the proposed sale to developers of the BPL branch at Cadman Plaza.

At a reporters’ roundtable attended by the BHB last Wednesday, October 23, Borough President Adams—who as a candidate pledged to oppose any library sale—addressed the library issue head-on, admitting that “It’s a complicated conversation,” but adding, “I am opposed to selling off any public space. Once you sell it off, you can’t get it back.”

Adams suggested a series of conversations with all interested parties to arrive at a “better understanding of what is the real dollar amount we’re dealing with in capital expense” and to determine a “pathway to address some of the capital issues we have beyond the [BPL] system.”

Ms. Woods of Berlin Rosen, speaking for the BPL, emphasized in an e-mail response that the financial challenges facing the library are indeed daunting.

“With $300 million needed for system-wide maintenance and $82 million needed for emergency infrastructure repairs, Brooklyn Public Library is facing a deferred maintenance crisis that is impacting every neighborhood in the borough,” Woods wrote. “At Brooklyn Heights, one of the highest-need branches, we are simply unable to deliver the level of service the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood deserves.”

But Citizens Defending Libraries, a vocal opponent of the proposed sale, believes that the BPL has inflated the Brooklyn Heights’ library’s deferred capital maintenance cost, which has been pegged at $9.2 million, including an estimated $3.5-$4.5 million for a new HVAC system.

Michael D.D. White, co-founder of CDL with his wife, Carolyn McIntyre, said last Monday that “the fact that they [BPL’s capital needs] are greatly exaggerated right now as an excuse to sell libraries means that the amount of money we are looking to spend is a lot less than the BPL is saying.” According to White, accessing public funds, not liquidating prized assets, is the better way to alleviate the BPL’s financial challenges: “There is money currently available in the city budget to be re-allocated for fixing and improving our city libraries.”

Referring to the Central Library Plan for the New York Public Library’s main branch, Mr. White identified that $350 million dollars—including $150 million from the city—has been proposed to fold the Mid-Manhattan and the Science, Industry and Business libraries into the iconic 42nd Street branch. White suggested the NYPL abandon this plan and instead use available city money to “benefit branches throughout New York City” including Brooklyn.

Averring that libraries “cost virtually nothing to fund—between 0.5 and 1 percent period [of the overall city budget],” White believes that the Mayor, the NYC City Council and local community boards will sustain public libraries because of the vital services they provide.

Indeed, at his roundtable last week, Borough President Adams stated that $1.5 million from the 2014 – 15 Brooklyn Borough President’s budget is earmarked for the BPL, the largest single allocation of capital funding.

But Adams stressed that “The library at Cadman Plaza is not an individual library, it’s part of the BPL. …[W]hen you have an urgent capital need, you have to come up with a plan as to how to address that need. …[H]ow do you sell off assets that have a larger dollar value?”

Alexandra Bowie of the Brooklyn Heights Association emphasized that the BHA is committed to “fighting to get the best building and best library possible for the neighborhood.” Last year the BHA issued a public statement, in which its board conditionally supported the sale of the site—a position that has generated much discussion in the blogsphere.

Ms. Bowie said by e-mail, “We do not know whether the project will go forward and whether a new building will be built. At the BHA, we feel that we will better serve the community if we stay at the table to negotiate with the BPL…” She insisted that the strategy is yielding results: “We have already achieved success with this approach: the proposed new library is bigger than when the BPL started, and the BPL has committed to providing interim service throughout the construction period.”

According to Emma Woods, the BPL spokeswoman, the library is sensitive to an issue that has polarized local residents. “We look forward to continuing our robust public dialogue, including ongoing meetings with the Community Advisory Committee, all in advance of the City’s full land use review process,” Ms. Woods said last week. “Working with the City and a development partner, we can build a brand new branch, and raise money to address some of the Library’s overwhelming needs in other neighborhoods.”

When questioned if Citizens Defending Libraries would bow to consensus if it were determined that the library site would be sold, Mr. White responded that “we would be trying to shape the public benefit moving forward, [and] we would…be looking to shed light on what’s happened.” White referenced the fate of the Donnell Library Center, a heavily utilized branch of the NYPL that was demolished in 2009 to make way for a 46-story $400 million hotel/condo complex.

“We are still calling for an investigation [into the Donnell sale] and we are still calling for a library of comparable size and stature to be returned to that area,” White maintained, “even though that involves expense that wouldn’t be necessary had it not been destroyed in the first place.”

CORRECTION: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ office clarified on May 1 that for the first half of the 2015 fiscal year there will be a total of $15 million dollars in the Borough President’s budget for capital allocations. Of that total, $1.5 million will be allocated for capital repairs at the Brooklyn Public Library. The story as originally posted erroneously stated that $15 million would be allocated to the BPL.

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  • dclinton

    Eric Adams is a typical politician giving wish-washy answer. I don’t see how this is so complicated a question. We have a dingy library, it needs lot and lots of money to fix, and the BPL has a smart plan to build a brand new library without raising our already too high taxes. What, exactly, is the problem here? Also Adams is wrong…we aren’t selling a public asset and getting nothing back, looks to me like we’re getting a brand new public library….he needs to get his facts straight

  • bethman14

    Cue the CDL Tin Hat brigade…..

  • Michael D. D. White

    The library is bigger than originally proposed? Not by much. Never once did I hear the Brooklyn Heights Association or the “Friends” of the library group sound like either one of them was truly negotiating for anything at the so-called Community Advisory Committee meetings where they wee seated as representatives-in-chief for the community. The Friends group said specifically that it wasn’t allowed to negotiate with the BPL, that it had to sign on to the BPL’s decisions, and the BHA said specifically it was following the lead of the Friends group.

    Although our Citizens Defending Libraries was NOT allowed to `sit at the table’ at those CAC meetings, it was CDL that put out the greatest, most sustained and convincing cry that the library should not be shrunk or sold. By contrast the BHA and Friends were talking vaguely about the library needing to be of “adequate” size while using language that butressed the slight-of-hand fiction that the Brooklyn Heights Library, a regional library, is not being shrunk if the Business and Career portion is evicted and the disappearance of its space theoretically ignored.

    I’d suggest that it was the outcry led by CDL that has led the BPL to propose the shrunken library be a few feet larger, except that it is `Standard Operating Procedure’ for developers to propose something really bad initially so that they can later appear to have conceded to community demands later on.

    More about the BHA and its failure to negotiate (including a chart of its positions) here: Saturday, April 13, 2013, Condoning The Sale and Shrinkage Of The Brooklyn Heights Library, Does
    The Brooklyn Heights Associations Think Of Friends Group As A Fig Leaf?
    It Should Think Again

  • concerned citizen

    this sale is a travesty… people who think they are getting a “brand new library back” obviously havent been to midtown Manhattan where Donnel has yet to re-open after 7 years of shut down. it will employ less than a third of the personel it used to employ and will carry one tenth of the books – it’s all about making it a wi-fi lounge for MoMa. if you doubt me, read the several articles the New York Times wrote about it in their architectural session.

    another big problem here is that even if BPL sells this particular branche, it wont solve its funding needs. meaning that in a couple of years it sells another branch? and then another one? when does it stop?

    it stops when our elected officials stop catering to for profit real estate interests and when public servies – including libraries and schools and housing – are properly funded for the long run.

    please say “No” to this as it is just the first of many.

  • concerned citizen

    this is not a dingy library by the way. when was the last time you were there? it’s always packed. unfortunately, it has not been receiving any adequate funding for a couple of years now…which is very convenient to force people into believing it’s a “dingy” library that needs to be rased to the ground so a grand new 45 luxury condo (with tax abatements) gets built on top of it.
    please wake up dclinton. it’s your taxes too.

  • Daniel Trotta

    Actually, Adams was quite clear. “Once you sell it off, you can’t get it back.” Nothing wishy-washy about that. The problem here is that the library belongs to us and we don’t want to sell it. Why not sell Prospect Park while we’re at it? I’m sure there are some exciting possibilities for raising money there.

  • Daniel Trotta

    Why is the BHA violating its own Mission Statement on the library issue? The association says its mission is “maintaining and improving the quality of life in our neighborhood” and that “BHA is pushing to limit building heights on our perimeter and to keep out increased traffic.” And yet they support building another monstrosity in the middle of a neighborhood already overwhelmed with traffic and tall buildings. BHA should be joining forces with CDL to fight this land grab by developers.

  • Justine Swartz

    CAC has 14 members. Why aren’t the CAC Members: Cadman Towers,Community Board 2, Concord Village, DUMBO Neighborhood Association, Fulton Ferry Landing Association
    Council Member Stephen Levin, Assemblywoman Joan L. Millman
    Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Senator Daniel L. Squadron
    Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez
    present at this discussion???

  • marshasrimler

    Simply this monstrous plan put forth by BPL and supported by the Brooklyn Heights Association will not happen. Eric Adams is keeping to his word about the give away of public assests and he needs to be congratulated for that. Funding from various sources including bonds can fix this problem. The BPL Board and Executive need new faces to lead. The BHA needs a new President as Alexandra Bowie has tried to push this down our throats in the name of the BHA. The Friends group needs a new President as Deborah Hallen has not been a friend of the library or the community.
    Lets move forward with new leadership-stop bickering- and get this solved. The present leadership at BPL has no strategy or ideas for robust fundraising and must be replaced
    as step #1. Lets get going

  • marshasrimler

    ps..1 How much money and time has the BPL spent on
    lobbyists. consultants and spokespersons that is coming out of public funds for all this??
    2 One must ask why the BHA is so committed to this?
    If they said no way.. that would be it and BPL would stop this plan. One of their leaders was overheard saying the smaller,cozier library would keep outsiders out of the neighborhood.. This is code for what????
    Shame on them…

  • Reggie

    Some thoughts after reading the post and comments as of now:

    Regarding Adams’ statement, “I am opposed to selling off any public space. Once you sell it off, you can’t get it back.,” what is “it”? If “it” is the library, dclinton has a point because a new branch library will replace the old one. If “it” is the development rights, it can be argued the asset doesn’t even exist unless it is sold.

    Yes, the replacement library isn’t as large but it has the potential to be higher functioning, making a pure square-foot comparison perhaps the wrong calculation. Mr. White writes, “The library is bigger than originally proposed? Not by much.” One-third bigger, and I think that qualifies as ‘by much.’

    Also somewhat disingenuous are comparisons to the Donnell fiasco, where NYPL did not have any of the ‘clawback’ provisions that BPL has said it will include in the deal or else not proceed.

    Mr. Whites also observes, “Never once did I hear the Brooklyn Heights Association or the ‘Friends’ of the library group … truly negotiating for anything at the so-called Community Advisory Committee meetings….” C’mon, it’s the Brooklyn Heights Association. I am sure its “gov’nors” have other venues for negotiating.

    Finally, Adams has an advisory role during ULURP. Opponents of the sale should certainly be heartened by his comments. However, his opposition is most certainly not a silver bullet.

    For the record, concerned citizen, I was at the branch today.

  • Michael D. D. White

    Here are some numbers and information from what you are choosing to call the “Tin Hat brigade”- Tuesday, April 29, 2014
    What’s Wrong With These Numbers?: The Baccarat Tower’s $60M Penthouse and NYC’s Library Budget

  • Michael D. D. White

    Regarding library funding, the city budget and monies available, see this just up: Tuesday, April 29, 2014, What’s Wrong With These Numbers?: The Baccarat Tower’s $60M Penthouse and NYC’s Library Budget

  • Nidia Birenbaum

    Eric Adams got it right! Once public lands are
    sold off to real estate developers the community will never get the land back. What Alexandra Bowie, President of the Brooklyn Heights Association and Friends of the Library should do is spend the time advocating for funds needed to repair, and improve the library, instead of getting on board with real estate developers bent on taking over public lands, destroying libraries, and designating them to basements, with promises of a “better, bigger more modern” library, while replacing the libraries with expensive luxury condos, ignoring citizens wishes, and changing the landscape for the worse. Advocating for the destruction of the Cadman Plaza library is a betrayal to the citizens of Brooklyn Heights, as well as people, young and old from nearby community that love and use the library. I suggest that Friends of the Library, and Ms. Bowie and her group get out of the way. The community doesn’t need “friends” like Alexandra Bowie and/or Deborah Hallen and her group of so-called “friends”.

  • Michael D. D. White

    I see you are methodically going through a list attempting to address issues. That’s something I haven’t seen before from those advocating to sell and shrink libraries. Nevertheless, let’s just take some examples of what you say that needs addressing: You suggest it is “disingenuous” to compare the Brooklyn Heights sell off to the Donnell fiasco if there are “clawback” provisions in the case of the Brooklyn Heights deal. Hardly. The NYPL had the right to terminate (“”clawback” if you will) the Donnell deal, but for some reason didn’t exercise it. Ask Mr. Offensend why. So that winds up being a meaningless distinction.

    But you suggest a world-wise knowledge and insight on your part (“C’mon, it’s the Brooklyn Heights Association. . . .”) that real negotiations are conducted by “gov’nors” out of the public eye (in “other venues”). Are you really openly suggesting that the real power, things like “clawbacks,” are exercised (or not) based on secrete deals by a power elite that functions out of the public eye? In which case, what’s the benfit of any clawback that is supposedly in place to protect the public?

    I will tell you that based on our meetings with Alexandra Bowie in mid-March 2013 she had zero interest in negotiating for any community benefit, no matter what we were pointing out was necessary and appropriate and no matter what she hadn’t thought about before.

    Who are you Reggie? You know who I am.

  • Lynn Rosen

    Selling off /shrinking a library is taking away the right to education. We want our students to research and learn. By closing this library how are we permitting them to do this? You promise us a new state of the arts library yet what are we supposed to do in the time this is happening? I am a teacher and my students regularly visit this library. They don’t have the financial means to go to a bookstore and buy the books they want. A lot of these students enjoy the programs that the library provides. Now what will happen?
    Closing this library is shutting the doors of knowledge and this is not acceptable. I have been in this institution many times and it is far from dinghy. It is used by so many people . To me closing a library is inviting a gang invitation. Where will the students who find this library to be a safe haven go?
    This is being done for the almighty dollar and not for the public. This must be stopped.

  • Ruth Eiss

    I applaud Eric Adams for stating that once the property is sold, we can’t get it back. However, he also muses that the Cadman Plaza branch library is part of a larger (Brooklyn) system. This opens the door to the sale of the Cadman Plaza library to support the other Brooklyn branches. Here is an analogy for your consideration. When BJ, who lives in Public Housing has a leak in her apartment, they come and fix it! They don’t tell her,”Well, BJ, you know your Red Hook dwelling is part of a larger system and we are under extreme budget constraints. Now, don’t be selfish and expect us to fix it.” Similarly, the city needs to come and fix the Cadman Plaza library.

    Citizens defending Libraries and all those who support maintaining and enhancing the library aren’t racists, as implied by the “developers,” and their henchmen, even though Brooklyn Heights is a wealthy, largely white neighborhood. We are spokespersons for the voiceless preponderance of patrons who use our library, as well as ourselves. Those who want to exclude “others” who use the library should own it. If the shoe fits, wear it!

    Incidentally, the word “developers” is a misnomer. It means “to make
    available” or “promote the growth.” I don’t see that in any of the plans pushed by the “Friends” and “‘Citizen’ Advisory Council. Call it like it is: colonizing and bleeding public assets.

  • Ruth Eiss

    What’s between two covers?

    Brooklyn Public Library and real estate!

  • Ruth Eiss

    BHA, CAC and realtors are putting forth specious arguments, surveys and what not to skew the narrative and project that they will be providing a “bigger and better library.” Even some knowledgeable people are buying into it, but privatization by any other name would smell as sweet (stink, that is.)

    Privatization imperiLs libraries, schools, parks theatres, senior centers, short buildings — you name it. It is a global issue.


  • sparkiy

    Um,yeah. Public housing residents are regularly made to wait YEARS for repairs that can range from small to life threatening (mold.) “for the past two years my apartment has been cold all the time. I have been using heaters to keep my apartment warm.”