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

Space case: A rendering shows the plan for the renovated Red Hook library branch, with the new, Spaceworks-operated dance studio in the back.
The Brooklyn Paper
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A plan to rent out a big chunk of the Red Hook library branch that would close the prose depot for at least eight months is an unnecessary privatization of public reading space, say bookworms who plan to pack public hearings next week and voice their opposition.

The space-sharing arrangement will have the arts group Spaceworks take over three or four tenths of the library for dance and performance digs that Spaceworks will rent at supposedly affordable prices. The plan has been in the works since early last year, but the library system and the organization are now seeking approval from Community Board 6 for the renovations. Activists are gearing up for a fight over what they say is a handout at the expense of taxpayers that threatens the very notion of a library for the people.

“I don’t know why it’s necessary to add another layer in order to allow people to use public space,” said Eric Richmond, proprietor of the embattled Gowanus cultural space Brooklyn Lyceum. “A library is a public commons.”

The community board’s land use and landmarks committee approved the plan on June 26, but on July 7, the panel’s executive committee decided there had not been enough time for public comment and kicked the discussion back to the land-use committee, which has one more meeting scheduled this summer on July 31.

The renovations are supposed to create two performance studios in the building and fix up other parts of the facility that are in disrepair . A library spokesman estimated costs for the job at $1.8 million, of which Spaceworks is supposed to provide $650,000 to cover the price of the studios. The library is then supposed to get rent from Spaceworks for as long as the organization uses the space.

Neither Spaceworks nor the library would say how much the group will pay or how often.

Representatives of the library dismissed criticism of the studio plan, saying the new digs for dancers and actors will take the place of under-used space and not, as Richmond alleges, bookshelves.

“We don’t feel like we’re giving up space,” said Josh Nachowitz, vice president of government and community relations for the Brooklyn Public Library. “This project will really enhance our ability to serve the community.”

Nachowitz said that, though Spaceworks will be renting out the studio spaces, they will be available to the public for blocks of time throughout the week.

The eight-month closure plan is an increase from the four-to-six months the library presented to the board in June. Nachowitz said the time-frame is too short to open an alternate space, and that inconveniencing library patrons is unavoidable.

Another library spokesman emphasized that the new tenant is not the main reason for the closure.

“It’s important to note that we would be closing anyway to complete the other renovations,” said David Wolloch, executive vice president of the Brooklyn Public Library. “We would rather get in there with a planned closure than letting the building fall apart.”

Artists interested in using the studios will need to become Spaceworks members and rent the spaces on an hourly basis, according to the a spokeswoman for the organization.

“People will be able to check availability either online or at a kiosk at the library,” said Colleen Ross, director of communications for Spaceworks. “It will be a lot like Zipcar.”

Ross couldn’t give an exact date for the beginning of construction, but she said Spaceworks and the library hope to get started within six months.

Spaceworks currently operates a studio in Queens and one in Gowanus on President Street between Fourth and Third Avenues. The Gowanus studio, like the one in progress at the Williamsburg library, is more geared toward visual artists.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

library or not? from slope says:

--is it? “A library is a public commons.”
--unused space? why? 30-40% of library?
--Benefit to a "free" public library?
Spaceworks will rent at supposedly affordable prices.
--Repairs, again? 1,800,000 for additional repairs which are?
"create two performance studios in the building and
fix up other parts of the facility that are in disrepair ."
--Lease/License code wording and not on annual report :
"The library is then supposed to get rent from Spaceworks for as long as the organization uses the space."

--What are you doing such that 30-40% of your chartered mission can dissipate and it matters not?
“We don’t feel like we’re giving up space,”

--Open / transparent ?
"Neither Spaceworks nor the library would say how
much the group will pay or how often. "

NOTE: Tax records and an off the cuff analysis indicate that Spaceworks would rent space at about $12 per square foot per year that the city/state is already funding to the tune of (again, off the cuff analysis as the BPL doesn't show the figures directly) approximately $225 per square foot per year.

Maybe that $213 per square foot per year should be deducted from the library funding.
July 16, 2014, 7:12 am
A.P. from Gowanus says:
Oh thank god someone's fighting so hard to keep artists out of the library. Who wants members of the community bringing life back to unused spaces? It would be much better to keep pricing artists out of the city and let libraries wither on vine.

Also, on their website it looks like Spaceworks is a non-profit. Funny that the article calls it a privatization.
July 16, 2014, 8:29 am
library or not? from slope says:
please oh please evaluate the not for profit "real estate development firm".

its the subsidy that should go to the commons that is being converted into a non-commons.

a quote fro the petition:

Public libraries are for the public, not private development deals with artists, who, as wonderful as I'm sure they are, should not be used as a means of taking over public space and turning it into a private source of revenue. The shadme of it all!
July 16, 2014, 8:48 am
cmoch from bklyn hts says:

Spaceworks is not really a not for profit--this is taken from the link above

Enter Spaceworks

The Bloomberg administration was trying to push through and lock in a lot of privatizing sell-offs of public assets before the mayor’s final day in office, December 31, 2013. That included libraries, schools, parks, hospitals. On the library front, the mayor was pushing for the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library, the Pacific Branch Library (both next to Forest City Rater property) and the Central Library Plan, a scheme that involved sale of Mid-Manhattan, the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) and destruction of the research stacks and exile of books from the 42nd Street Central Reference library, and would have cost the public an undisclosed half billion dollars, hundreds of millions more than publicized. As we’ll be discussing, other libraries were under attack as well although not all was known at the time.
July 16, 2014, 9:38 am
Homey from Crooklyn says:
Worst. Idea. Ever.
July 16, 2014, 11:19 am
ty from pps says:
Regardless of the appropriate usage issues... EIGHT MONTHS for some repairs and building out some new internal rooms?!

Everything in this city is so friggin' ridiculous whenever it's related to something "public." Very similar to closing subway stations for 4 months and spending millions of dollars for almost no significant repairs -- repairs that most competent handymen could take care of in a few weeks.
July 16, 2014, 11:21 am
I have questions from Red Hook says:
Parks advocates slam the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp. for giving free space to Spaceworks NYC
The park’s board voted late last year to give the arts organization a 15-year no-bid cost-free license agreement to occupy two floors at the 334 Furman St. office building inside the park.

Read more:
July 16, 2014, 2:17 pm
MRS from Canarsie says:
What is happening in Brooklyn? Such a shame.
July 16, 2014, 5:10 pm
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights says:
Did you know that the shelves of the Red Hook Library are more than half empty but the Brooklyn Public Library had staff (not regular librarians) there Friday that didn't want pictures taken to show that emptiness?

Did you know that one reason the shelves are so empty is that the BPL refused to accept new books donated to the library because of Sandy?

Keep a library empty of books (that take up real estate) and it is easier to argue that the space isn't needed as a library. - That it's "underutilized."

Did you know that the library, flooded out during Sandy, was just extensively renovated after being closed to do so, with the insurance paying for everything? And now the idea is to close it again for a SECOND renovation to create this space for which artists will be charged?

Sign the Citizens Defending Libraries petition: Mayor de Blasio: Rescue Our Libraries from Developer Destruction.
July 16, 2014, 5:36 pm
Common Cents from Crown Heights says:
We'll the people elected a billionaire 3 times, let him get rid of the position of library director and place a friend in charge as 'CEO', then elect a guy from Boston that has no idea what NYC life is like. What do you expect?
July 16, 2014, 8:58 pm
Library lover from Fort Greene says:
Wonder how much the library is spending on all these spokespersons? The library wouldn't need spokespersons if they stopped creating real estate deals and taking library space away from the citizens.
Look for more underutilized space according to spokesperson in your library soon!

And how clever to pit artists against library lovers. Who can argue for the need for discounted artist space?
July 16, 2014, 10 pm
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights says:
From the Noticing New York coverage on this story:

. . . why is the public library space being put into the hands of a private company created by Bloomberg? The next obvious question to ask is why the city would direct available public funds to this private company rather than to the libraries. Or, in the very least, why wouldn't public funds for the project come to the library directly from the Department of Cultural Affairs through an appropriate program. Why resort to the interposition of this non-transparent privatization?


Why is it being asserted that there is a problem and that libraries are under used at all? Why are libraries foremost among the public assets that are Spaceworks takeover targets? How broadly are they setting their sights and which libraries will be next?

Thursday, July 3, 2014
Spaceworks And Its Privatizing Space Grab Of The Libraries
July 17, 2014, 12:14 am
Bob Pepper from Brooklyn Hetghts says:
Libraries aren't bodegas, how utilized they are has never been the point. they are public-funded spaces for anyone to research, learn, collect, keep up, & browse for interests they might pursue for free. The internet is fast becoming a pay-for-utility with only basic-info offers. There are many who don't have computers, but a poor kid might develop an idea, invention, interest or career from a love of something found at their free library!
July 17, 2014, 12:20 am
July from Park Slope says:
Incredible that BPL officials say there is unused space at the Red Hook branch.
Use the space to expand area for computers in the Red Hook branch and every branch in this digital/computer age. Have expanded reading tutorial programs. Build up book collection for K-12.
Libraries should expand educational programs for adults living in the neighborhood.
Work with teachers in the local schools to see the needs of students. What are the reading and math scores in Red Hook and Williamsburg communities and how can the library best meet the needs of those students. Certainly not by dance space.

I hope CB6 says NO NO NO to privatizing space needed for reading and computers for the community.
Shame on BPL for even entertaining the idea of Spaceworks in branch libraries.

Let your City Council member hear your complaints, contact Borough President Adams office and send your complaints to Mayor de Blasio.
July 17, 2014, 12:59 am
Marsha Rimler from Brooklyn says:
This is another example of the "imperial" BPL Board and the court jester Josh Nackowitz misspeaking.
This is not a community organization but a group that wants to dictate to the public the use of public assests.. We need increased oversight of this board. Lets get an oversight bill-like the one enacted for The Queens library.
July 17, 2014, 6:56 am
christian from queens says:
This is just the latest in fake library activists using the libraries to advance their causes. They are vocally not interested in library staff and services and have no background in public budgeting to make the crazy statements that they are making. Interesting that you did not mention that the Brooklyn Lyceum charges artists for working space and ONLY got involved in this conversation when the libraries started looking into providing cheap working spaces for artists.
July 23, 2014, 2:51 pm
christian from queens says:
Also, where have all these library "supporters" been while we have been fighting to keep the doors open and the desks staffed? They have this fixation that the money is there despite numerous independent experts saying it isn't. They have been attacking the library for years but have yet to offer any proof to support their allegations which irresponsible reporters put out there as gospel.
July 23, 2014, 2:52 pm
followthemoney from park slope/gowanus says:
Umm, Christian...

Of course the Lyceum charges. It is a theater. It is not a Library, although the original Lyceum did house the Brooklyn Apprentice's Library which became the seeds of what became the BPL, if the BAM is to be believed.
July 23, 2014, 4:09 pm

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