Library, arts group on R’Hook branch privatization plan: We’re all ears

Book binding! Activists say Hook library art-space deal squeezes the public

Red Hook isn’t putting on its dancing shoes quite yet.

The library system’s plan to carve out part of the neighborhood’s branch to let real estate group Spaceworks rent it as dance studios is plodding ahead, but after an outpouring of opposition from neighbors, the partners say they want to hear more input from neighbors.

“We heard the community and we need to talk more,” said Colleen Ross, a spokeswoman for Spaceworks. “There are a lot of opinions, and that takes a little time, especially in the summer.”

Neither Spaceworks nor the Brooklyn Public Library has released a timeline for the project, which, coinciding with other planned renovations to the branch, would close the place for at least eight months. The partners had hoped to begin construction on the performance-art complex inside the library by the end of the year, and despite setting aside more time to consult community leaders and Red Hook neighbors, Ross said they are moving ahead as planned, as far as she knows.

An opponent of the plan hesitated to declare victory on Wednesday, calling the additional opportunities for input a “sorta-victory.”

“This is a good example of what can happen when the public finds out what is going and they don’t like it,” said Michael White, a library advocate who has opposed the privatization plan. “If a program like this is appropriate for the library, it should be done by the library.”

Under the plan, Spaceworks would contribute $650,000 to cover the construction of dance studios that would take up slightly less than half of the one-story library’s main room. The organization would then rent the space to local performing artists at supposedly affordable rates, while paying a fee to the library which both parties have so far refused to disclose. The land use committee of the neighborhood’s Community Board 6 voted in July to reconsider the issue at its next meeting after criticizing Spaceworks and the library for not presenting enough information about the plan.

Dozens of Red Hookers showed up to the July meeting, most to inveigh against the scheme, which the committee had previously approved but which the board’s executive body kicked back after deciding there had not been enough public notice. That contentious meeting was part of the reason the library decided it would have to invest more time in reaching out, a library spokeswoman said.

“We heard the community’s concerns, and are going to have a robust dialogue with Red Hook residents, community leaders, and elected officials before moving forward with any project,” said library spokeswoman Emma Woods. “Our goal is, and has been, to create a dynamic and vibrant library that serves the needs of the Red Hook community.”

The private Spaceworks was created by the Bloomberg administration in 2011 to maintain low-cost art space throughout the city. The organization operates studios in Queens and Gowanus, and is working on a scheme at the Williamsburg library similar to the one lined up for Red Hook.

No meeting dates have yet been set.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz