UPDATE: a statement from the Brooklyn Public Library indicates that they no longer plan to transfer the library’s operations from Pacific Street to the new “Bam South” or “South Site” location. Instead, this space will be a new location for writers and creative types, funded by private donations:
“Two Trees Management Company, a Brooklyn-based developer, is currently building a multiuse cultural and housing complex at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Ashland Place, two blocks from the existing Pacific branch. BPL plans to create a unique writing center that provides a work space for emerging writers in Brooklyn and offers a critical service to Brooklyn’s creative community. The project will build on our hugely successful Shelby White and Leon Levy Information Commons space at Central Library. BPL will be serving the borough’s burgeoning creative community by providing programming and access to space in a way that is far less expensive than a traditional library model. This project is expected to be funded with private donations and will not be a new circulating library or a replacement for an existing BPL facility.”
Emma Woods, of Berlin Rosen Public Relations, offered the following additional statement on the library’s behalf:
“Brooklyn is the creative capital of the world, and we want our library system to be a resource for the borough’s vibrant community of artists and writers. We have an incredibly exciting opportunity to do just that at BAM South, where we are being given a space for the creative community that will be built out with private funds.”
Original story below.
The managers of a Park Slope community space are worried the timeless Pacific Street branch of the Brooklyn Public Library is for sale and will ultimately be demolished, and have even directed concerned residents to an online petition to thwart the effort. Officials deny the allegation, but admit a new branch is ultimately in the works at a nearby construction site, with a plan to transfer the Pacific Street site’s activities, leaving the fate of the property unclear.
“Looks like the Pacific Street Library is up for sale again,” says a post for the Brooklyn Lyceum, a non-profit event venue just down the road on Fourth Avenue. The post went on to direct viewers to an online petition protesting the Brooklyn Public Library’s alleged fire-sale of its assets to real estate developers. “It is a bit long and dry but the issues are important,” the online post explains.
“We demand that Mayor de Blasio, [and] all responsible elected officials, rescue our libraries from the sales, shrinkage, defunding and elimination of books and librarians undertaken by the prior administration to benefit real estate developers, not the public,” reads the petition, written by Citizens Defending Libraries, a local advocacy group.
Officials were quick to play down the rumors, while distinguishing their expansion and relocation plans from a “sale” of the property.
“The information is not accurate — the Library currently has no plans to sell or demolish the Pacific branch,” said Emma Woods of BerlinRosen Public Affairs, on behalf of the library.
“No, the BPL Pacific branch is not for sale,” said Ames O’Neill, Executive Assistant to the BPL’s President. But Ms. O’Neill then mentioned the “Building a Better Pacific Library” plan, whereby “Two Trees Management Company, a Brooklyn-based real estate developer, is currently building a multiuse cultural and housing complex at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Ashland Place, two blocks from the existing Pacific branch.”
“BPL plans to build a new, 16,500-square-foot branch within this multi use building,” the plan explains. “The new branch would be larger and better designed than the current Pacific Library and would have more space open to the public. Under this scenario, BPL would move its services from the existing building to the new, larger location when the South Site project is complete, likely sometime in 2017. In the meantime the Pacific branch would remain open and would continue to function.”
But what happens to the Pacific Street building after its library services are transferred out? It looks like the concerned citizens may be right about a sale–even if the transaction is not imminent.
“While BPL initially planned to fund the fit-out costs of the new South Site branch through the sale of the existing Pacific Library, it has become clear that the neighborhood highly values the historic building and the services the library provides,” the plan concedes. ” BPL is committed to working with elected officials and community stakeholders… [but] [d]ue to the significant financial issues associated with the Pacific Branch, BPL cannot rule out selling the building, but is committed to working with the community to explore other potential options that would also address the financial concerns.”
Reading between the lines, the onus of the financial costs will be shifted upon local preservationists, who likely won’t be able to come up with a sufficient stop-gap solution. At that point, along with the passage of time, transition of residents and resulting dimming of opposition, a sale of the Pacific Branch is likely (semi-commital language about preserving the structure notwithstanding).
But why can’t the library just stay at its current site in the first place? The “Build a Better” plan cites a “daunting” $10 million in capital needs for the Pacific Street branch as a reason for the shift.
“The Pacific branch faces a significant capital need of over $10 million,” the statement reads. “BPL only receives about $15 million per fiscal year on average to meet over $300 million in capital needs throughout the BPL system. Accordingly, BPL does not have the funding to make these needed repairs.”
Such a “crisis,” caused by arbitrary budget constraints alone, has a chilling similarity to the saga of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, where “extensive repair work” was cited as a justification for the (alleged) preconceived plot to move an art gallery to a downtown location favored by elites, against the wishes of the collector’s original owner.
Here, art is not the prized asset, but prime real estate. In 2011, the City Council adopted the Special 4th Avenue Enhanced Commercial District, allowing 12-story buildings at the library’s location, an area formerly comprised of 3 or 4 story row house apartment buildings. And although the Pacific Library is a Carnegie building, dating from 1903, the structure can be demolished at will.
“The Pacific Street Library is not landmarked (although it was the first Carnegie Library in Brooklyn),” the post from the Brooklyn Lyceum said.
In short: there’s a huge profit to be made on gleaming new residential construction, once a modest-height, anachronistic facade cherished only by library advocates and preservationists is out of the way.
Michael D. White, an attorney, urban planner and former government public finance and development official who runs the blog Noticing New York, smells a rat.
“The defunding of the city library system [occurs] in order to create a ‘demolition by neglect’ financial crisis and holding out the carrot that it will restore funding to the library system only if the public goes along with the selling off of library sites for the sake of real estate deals,” White wrote in one of his posts on the subject.
White advised that the Brooklyn Public Library is purposefully being hard to pin down about what they are planning to do respecting the sale of the Pacific Branch Library, previously one of their top priorities to sell until community opposition thwarted prior efforts. Though Two Trees management is currently developing the downtown Brooklyn site where the Pacific Street Library will be moved, White sees Forest City Ratner as the most natural recipient of the Pacific Street branch site.
“If Forest City Ratner acquires the site of the Pacific branch library, it can extend its contiguous multi-acre Atlantic Yards empire and cheaply obtain extra benefit by also acquiring and closing down a new section of Pacific Street so as to connect the former library site to its contiguous Atlantic Yards acreage,” White wrote. “Forest City Ratner has a long history of obtaining private ownership and closing down public streets.”
Both Forest City Ratner and Two Trees Management did not respond to requests for comment.
Developers’ plans aside, the local advocacy group that started the petition sees boundless public resources squandered for short-term financing and the benefit of the few in place of many.
“Selling irreplaceable public assets at a time of increased use and city wealth is unjust, shortsighted, and harmful to our prosperity,” says the Citizens Defending Libraries petition. “These plans…undermine democracy, decrease opportunity, and escalate economic and political inequality.”