Red Hook library privatization plan panned

Red Hook library privatization plan panned
Waiting their turn: Oppnenents of art studios in the Red Hook Library raise their hands to speak at Community Board 6 committee meeting on July 24.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A scheme to rent out a big chunk of the Red Hook library branch to an arts group is a sweetheart deal that sells out everyday bookworms, residents argued at a packed community board meeting inside the branch on Thursday.

Dozens turned out to the evening meeting of Community Board 6’s land use committee concerning the fate of the library, most to condemn the privatization plan.

“Taking away the library would be killing parents who need it for their kids,” said Lydia Bellahcene, a Sunset Park resident who said she lived her entire life in Red Hook before Hurricane Sandy displaced her.

Hear ye: Sen. Velmanette Montgomery addresses the crowd at the Red Hook library.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

The committee ultimately decided to postpone voting on the issue till August, saying it did not have enough information to go on. The committee let it be known that if before the next meeting the library moves forward with the push, which entails carving up three- or four-tenths of the prose dispensary to allow the real estate organization Spaceworks to rent it out to performance artists at supposedly affordable rates, it is opposed.

Construction on the dance- and theater-studio space would coincide with other needed repairs, according to library officials. The whole project will run $1.8 million, with Spaceworks pitching in $650,000 to build its studios, library officials said. Both the library system and Spaceworks have refused to disclose how much the arts group will pay in rent.

The library was shuttered for months following Hurricane Sandy after the storm wreaked $750,000 in damage, a library honcho said. The renovations will close the library for at least eight months, the executive said, stressing the need for the branch to get fixed up regardless of the Spaceworks plan.

Branching out: Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park) said he doesn’t know where he stands on the library privatization plan, but that if it goes through, Red Hookers will need a new community meeting place.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

“We can’t solve everything, and we need to work with partners,” said David Wolloch, executive vice president of the Brooklyn Public Library.

Thursday was not the first time the proposal came before the board’s land use committee. The group okayed the plan at its June meeting, but revisited it after the panel’s executive board ruled there had not been enough public discussion. At the latest meeting, some committee members criticized the library and Spaceworks for leaving out key details of the plan. The partners’ presentation included renderings, but lacked a floor plan and a breakdown of which renovations the library could afford without the $650,000 from Spaceworks.

“Seven thousand five hundred square feet cut in half is not a big library,” said board member Jerry Armer, referring to the building’s total floor area. “This presentation is lacking and you want us to make a decision tonight? That’s crazy.”

Not in my library: Red Hook resident Sheryl Nash-Chisholm rails against a proposal to carve out a hefty portion of the Red Hook library for private dance studios.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Not everyone opposed the subdividing scheme. Cora Dance, a local dance group that would partner with Spaceworks to run the studios in the library, had several supporters in the crowd.

“This program would help us tremendously,” said Solomon Goodwin, a college student from Red Hook who said he studied at Cora Dance and has also worked there as a teacher. “We’re here to help kids grow.”

Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park) attended the meeting, but told this paper he is waiting to hear from more residents before taking a position on the plan.

Space-worked: This rendering of the planned Red Hook library branch downplays the dance studio in the back.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhurowitz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz

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