Readers fight to save Pacific branch library

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

Neighbors are fighting to halt the Brooklyn Public Library’s controversial plan to sell off the borough’s first Carnegie branch — or at least find a way to preserve the historic building.

Library officials want to replace the beloved Pacific branch, built in 1903 thanks to the philanthropy of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, with a more modern facility inside a skyscraper slated to rise nearby rather than shell out $11 million to repair the old structure. But critics blasted that proposal at a public meeting on Tuesday, claiming such a move would be a blow to readers who rely on the aging edifice.

“It would be a real shame to sell off this branch and displace a community of readers,” said Park Sloper and library regular Kate Lattin. “It would be a real sad loss for the neighborhood.”

Library officials said the branch on Fourth Avenue is in dire need of upkeep that they can’t afford on their annual system-wide maintenance budget of $15 million. That makes a move to a planned 32-story tower at Flatbush and Lafayette avenues all the sweeter: it would cost little to nothing due to a long-standing deal between the city and developer Two Trees Management Co.

“The physical building and the space that we have at Pacific isn’t meeting our needs. We don’t feel that it is meeting the community’s needs,” said Brooklyn Public Library official Josh Nachowitz. “It’s a beautiful building on the outside, but the interior is dumpy, let’s be honest,”

Library users disagree.

“We don’t feel like that!” shouted some angry book lovers.

Others worry that replacing the historic branch with a glitzy new site two blocks away on the other side of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues isn’t as good as it sounds because visitors from Park Slope or Boerum Hill would need to cross some of the borough’s busiest streets to get there.

“It’s across a major intersection and it is a very different neighborhood,” said Park Slope resident S.J. Avery. “It’s very hard to see this neighborhood and the current users of the space in this neighborhood being served.”

The Brooklyn Public Library doesn’t own the Pacific branch building — the property just steps from the Barclays Center belongs to the city. But cash from a sale would cover the interior build-out of the new branch, and any leftover funds would go back to the borough’s library system, which features 60 branches — 18 of them Carnegies — in need of $230 million in repairs, Nachowitz said.

Sold in its current state, with neither restrictions on its deed nor landmark designation, the Pacific branch would be worth less than $10 million, according to Nachowitz, who claims that would be enough to cover the new branch.

But he says the library would consider preserving the structure, so long as the efforts produce enough cash to fund a move to the new building. Officials have even commissioned an appraiser to determine the value of the building if it were a landmark.

Locals fear a developer will demolish the classical revival building, which is why community groups and politicians are starting the push to turn the branch into a landmark.

“The community has identified what we would like to see and that is a preservation of the building and the services,” said Councilman Steve Levin (D–Boerum Hill). “It fits the criteria of what we ought to be preserving, particularly in a neighborhood that is overrun by development.”

A sale requires the ultimate approval of city Council, which is a process that would not begin until late 2013 or 2014, library officials said.

The Brooklyn Public Library is also planning on selling the Brooklyn Heights branch, which was not put up by Carnegie, rather than pay $9 million to fix it.

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

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