History lesson: Library takes Pacific branch off block

Literary twist: Brooklyn Public Library officials plan to sell off the historic Pacific branch building on Fourth Avenue and replace the 1903 structure — put up by steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie — with a new facility inside a planned 32-story skyscraper several blocks away.
Community Newspaper Group / Natalie Musumeci

The Brooklyn Public Library has put controversial plans to sell an historic branch on hold, claiming that it will now try to figure out a way to continue using the aging structure after a replacement library is built nearby.

Library trustees originally planned to sell-off Park Slope’s beloved Pacific branch on Fourth Avenue to a private developer and use that cash to move into a new, more modern facility nearby, rather than shell out $11 million to fix up the 109-year-old edifice.

Treating the borough’s first Carnegie branch as a sacrificial lamb would let the Brooklyn Public Library focus on services and programming at its other 59 branches, which, including the Pacific branch, are in need of $300 million in overdue repairs, trustees said.

Soon after news of the plan was reported, residents started rallying around the old building, which many claimed was a monument that needed to be preserved.

Now officials say that the old library, just steps away from the Barclays Center, will be spared from a sale and bulldozer — at least for the time being.

“It has become clear that the neighborhood highly values that branch and its historic building,” Brooklyn Public Library spokesman Jeremy Soffin said in a statement.

The Library claims it will work with elected officials and community stakeholders to develop a plan for the Classical Revival-style building through a yet-to-be-decided “open process,” said Soffin.

“This plan could include maintaining some or all of the Pacific Street building and continuing to provide library service and programming for children in the community.” he said. “At the same time, we will continue to work with our partners to address the Library’s urgent funding needs.”

Book lovers pushing to landmark the building say the new plan as a big win in the fight to save the branch.

“The fact that the [Brooklyn Public Library] has begun to openly acknowledge the depth of community opposition to [its] plan is a huge victory for the people who love the Pacific branch,” said Park Slope resident S.J. Avery, who added that even though officials made a “vague” promise about an open community process, the fight is not over.

“This is the time to step up our activities, not to turn down the volume of the expressed opposition to their original plan,” she said.

The reprieve of the Pacific branch came as the City Council voted Monday to approve a developer’s plan to build a massive 32-story tower in the BAM Cultural District in Fort Greene that will include a new library within it.

Library trustees originally intended to replace the Pacific branch with that brand new, “technology-rich” facility in the mixed-use skyscraper for nearly no construction cost, due to a longstanding deal with Two Trees Management Co., the development firm that will build the tower on what’s currently a parking lot bounded by Flatbush Avenue, Lafayette Avenue, and Ashland Place.

The council voted 46 to 1 to approve the $135-million development. Developers intend to break ground in early 2014, said Two Tree’s David Lombino.

As part of the deals struck between the city and the developer, Councilwoman Tish James (D–Crown Heights), whose district includes the site of the tower, negotiated an agreement between the Bloomberg Administration and the Library to maintain the Pacific branch.

“I have always supported Two Trees’ vision for the project, and I believe it was important to ensure the project included significant community benefits such as increased affordable housing, maintaining the Pacific Street library, a commitment that cultural organizations utilizing the space will reflect the diversity of this community, and assurance that future utilization of the open space includes the input of all stakeholders,” said the public advocate candidate in a statement.

That said, Soffin noted that a selling-off the property is still in cards for the Library.

Library officials did not offer any details on how they planned to include the public when making decisions about the Pacific branch.

But Pacific branch proponents say they know exactly what the needs to be done.

“A truly open community process would be to have representation from elected officials, the local civic organizations, community board members, and the users,” said Peter Bray of the Park Slope Civic Council. “In that way, BPL can’t cherry pick who is involved.”

When completed, the new Two Trees building is expected to include 50,000-square-feet of “cultural” space that will include the library branch, movie theaters, and a rehearsal space managed by the dance troupe 651 Arts. There will also be commercial space and a public plaza.

Sixty of the 300 apartments in the tower will be rented at so-called “affordable” rates.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at nmusumeci@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.

Okayed: The city says Two Trees Management can build this in a parking lot next to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

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