Sold! Brooklyn Heights library to developer for $52 million

Sold! Brooklyn Heights library to developer for $52 million
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Sold! Brooklyn Public Library officials have chosen a buyer to knock down the 52-year-old Brooklyn Heights branch and build in its place a 30-story apartment building with a shiny new library on the ground floor.

Money from the $52 million deal will go to other branches in the system and toward building out the interior of the replacement branch, according to library officials. Library president Linda Johnson said the sale is good for Brooklynites, who data show are relying on a crumbling system with $280 million in unmet repairs.

“We will take proceeds from the sale and invest them in libraries across the borough,” Johnson said in a meeting with reporters before the board met. “By taking these steps we will build a library that this community deserves.”

An initial plan for the tower, to be built by Hudson Companies and designed by Marvel Architects, include 132 market-rate apartments, retail space, and a gym for nearby Saint Ann’s School, in addition to the replacement library.

Hudson also pledged to build 114 below-market-rate apartments elsewhere in the area served by Community Board 2, which includes Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Downtown, and Dumbo.

But all those details could change, Johnson said.

During the expected three-and-a-half year construction of the new building on the corner of Cadman Plaza West and Clinton Street, Hudson will foot the bill for a temporary library space at Our Lady of Lebanon Church, on Remsen Street between Henry and Clinton streets. But before anything happens the project will have to go through a lengthy approval process.

The library in the newly constructed building is set to be roughly one-third the size of the current branch. But book-lending honchos say that by moving the Career and Business Services Library, which is currently housed in the Heights branch building, to the Central Library, the new branch will actually have more space for patrons.

Johnson said the real estate deal was necessary because the system is strapped for cash and cannot afford to make needed repairs at the Heights branch or other borough libraries.

“There has been a shameful under-funding of the capital needs of the library systems,” she said.

Reprint: Current designs show the new branch entrance in the same place as the current one, with elements of the facade preserved.
Marvel Architects

Library numbers analyzed by the Center for an Urban Future in a recent report show branches have only $20.8 million lined up for $300 million worth of improvements, including $9 million for the Heights branch, which has suffered prolonged closures and reduced hours in recent summers due to a decrepit air-conditioning system.

But not everyone is buying it. The activist group Citizens Defending Libraries, which has opposed the sale of the Heights branch since the call for bids was issued last year, showed up for the library board meeting on Tuesday night and railed against the library’s board after it voted unanimously to pick Hudson.

“You’re a liar!” protester Marsha Rimler yelled at Johnson after the meeting.

The group believes that the estimated costs for repairs to library buildings have been intentionally inflated in order to justify their sale.

“The public’s interest has not been the primary concern,” said Pearl Hochstadt, a Brooklyn Heights resident since 1953. “There’s been too much consideration for real estate interests.”

Johnson brushed away the criticism at the pre-meeting discussion, the convening of which seemed to indicate that the unanimous vote in the evening was a forgone conclusion.

“People who are opposed to this are just opposed to change or opposed to development in general,” she said.

Hudson is the developer behind the 23-story tower at 626 Flatbush Ave. in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, which some neighbors are fighting because they say it will crowd the neighborhood and cast a shadow over nearby Prospect Park.

Johnson said that profits from the sale will fund upgrades at the Walt Whitman, Washington Irving, and Pacific branches — the latter of which was once on the block itself because of the expensive repairs it needs. But the money from this sale stands to only put a dent in the pile of problems at Pacific, not to mention the system as a whole. Michael White, the protest group’s founder, says this sell-off is only the first of many.

“What you see here is what you can expect across the rest of the system,” he said.

Astral turf: The squat two-story Brooklyn Heights library branch is set to make way for this 20-story tower with terraced, rooftop gardens.
Marvel Architects

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperl‌man@c‌ngloc‌al.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.