Big shots at the Brooklyn Public Library are eying developer Bruce Ratner as the key “partner” they need to jump start their long-delayed Visual and Performing Arts Library just two blocks from his proposed Atlantic Yards project.
No deals have been brokered between the institution and the developer, but officials from Forest City Ratner are talking to library trustees about funding the $120-million arts library, The Brooklyn Papers has learned.
“There have been several conversations,” said Danny Simmons, a member of the Brooklyn Public Library board and brother of rap impresario, Russell Simmons. “He would make a good partner. Ratner is building a huge, huge complex and one of the things that make it more attractive is surrounding cultural attractions. He has significant interest in making sure they succeed.”
The sleek, all-glass, Enrique Norten-designed building is a main feature of the city’s plan to surround the Brooklyn Academy of Music with a Lincoln-Center-style campus that includes new housing and cultural institutions.
When the library design was unveiled in 2002, officials predicted a 2005 groundbreaking. Now that date has been pushed back to 2009.
Few art world insiders were shocked to hear that Ratner is considering underwriting the building. The developer is a longtime BAM trustee who chaired the institution’s board until 2001.
“If you look at the BAM playbills, you have to see that [Ratner] has a history of giving,” said Marilyn Gelber, executive director of Independence Community Foundation.
Yet Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project is so controversial in some quarters that many opponents are looking this possible gift horse in the mouth. To them, Ratner’s support for the Visual and Performing Arts Library only confirms old suspicions about the BAM Cultural District.
“When the hours for all libraries in Brooklyn have been reduced and inventory is outdated, we need to rethink putting what [little] capital we have into this visual arts library,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Fort Greene).
“The state is relying on developers to make Downtown Brooklyn a playground for the rich, while ignoring basic needs in our community,” she added.
The latest plans for the “BAM Cultural District” show a theater designed by Atlantic Yards architect Frank Gehry, affordable office space for arts organizations, 350 units of housing (of which half would be middle- and low-income), plus a fountain designed to bring it all together.
Mayor Bloomberg allocated $74 million in financing for the cultural district in 2004 — but it has received no funding from the City Council since.