Sold! Brooklyn Heights library to developer for $52 million

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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.

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.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018: Updated to reflect that library officials misinformed reporters about the planned height of the development. Library president Linda Johnson said that the tower would rise 20 stories, but political consulting firm Berlin Rosen, which represents the library, e-mailed on Sept. 19 to say that the actual height is 30 stories.
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Reasonable discourse

notonmywatch from brooklyn says:
Hey there willfully ignorant.

--Linda Johnson declined to read the two page agreement in front of the public last night at the trustee meeting that described the negotiations and agreements to "sell" what the library DOES NOT OWN.  ANY ACTIONS about selling are outside their charter (1904) and should be punished severely.  Board chair is a whiz at getting corporations off on malfeasance though.   Wish the press (including this blog/paper) would actually do some legwork instead of just trotting out the monied position and the non-monied position absent any analysis. 

--Linda Johnson has no solid guarantee of funding.  Just ask her how much of the $40,000,000 she "raised" for the Philadelphia Library in her only other library related stint actually came to pass since that project was CANCELLED.

--Linda Johnson said in the press event (to maybe three reporters?) that this was the new model. Withhold repairs till buildings look in dire need, propose the sale and replacement to developers for capital funds they have already squandered (Dweck Center), get back smaller, lesser library and never show any signed agreements to the public while swearing trustees and other organizations to secrecy.

--Linda Johnson has repeatedly maligned the design of the existing library as incompetent work by the architect.  Funny thing, they don't ever mention the name.  It might be difficult  as it is the same architect that did the Landmarked Grand Army Plaza Branch.

--Linda Johnson didn't tell you that the Executive staff rooms at the Brooklyn Heights Library have a brand new air conditioner when the rest of the library closes down all summer because they can't spend $60,000 to fix something they are trumpeting as a necessary $4,600,000 "repair". that 70:1 ratio folks.

--Linda Johnson didn't tell you that they are following the recommendation of a group that is following the recommendation of a group that is forbidden to disagree with the BPL. Yes you read that, one level of indirection between them and an entity they control

--Linda Johnson didn't tell you that the independent third party report was done by REVSON who contributes to the library and Spaceworks and was commissioned to do both studies about library upgrades.

Yeah, off with their heads seem about right.
Sept. 17, 2014, 1:34 pm
Ray from Brooklyn Heights says:
3 things:

1. There should NEVER be a sale of public land to a developer. Long term lease, yes, but no sales
2. The land is owned by New York City. If this goes through it will be with the complicit agreement of the DeBlasio administration. Joan Millman and Velmanette Montgomery have actively opposed this whole scheme, but every other politican should be held accountable for this farce.
3. This scheme is being perpetrated across the entire city, and only we can stop it. Please read more at
Sept. 18, 2014, 10:15 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
"“People who are opposed to this are just opposed to change or opposed to development in general,” she said."

I'd vote for her for mayor.
Sept. 18, 2014, 5:12 pm
notonmywatch from brooklyn says:
Yeah Mike.

She lies on her resume and claims to have run a library in the past when she never had line responsibility.

She comes on board and all the air conditioners stop working at desirable locations.

She swears a public agency to secrecy over what Libraries they are selling.

She doesn't, to date, provide and agreements for the giveaway of library space to Spaceworks.

She doesn't, to date, provide and agreements for the sale of any library.

She hasn't got any firm commitment from anyone that guarantees the proceeds from the sale in addition to the current funding level.

Haven't figured out yet if she ran her father's company into the ground or not.

Its really about giveaways of the public commons for private profit.

And yes to Rays theory that all things should be long term leases, but that wouldn't make the fat cats fat enough.

Sounds like a good choice for mayor.


Sept. 18, 2014, 6:57 pm
Nickel from Brooklyn says:
It's true that the libraries are in great need of funding but typically these deals are absurdly enriching to developers. This one appears no different.
Sept. 19, 2014, 9:57 am
notonmywatch from brookyn says:
current lie, changed after "vote" : 30 stories, not 20.

current weasel words : "$280 million in unmet repairs."

love to see the breakdown on that. no longer "critical" anything, just repairs that they haven't disclosed in detail with cost estimates assigned to each.

so much to chew on even without any facts from the BPL or ms johnson.
Sept. 20, 2014, 1:59 pm
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights says:
Several things to put these stories in context-

The BPL is reporting that it has $300 million in capital needs, but the BPL minutes and records show that, at the request of Bloomberg’s City Hall, it hired a former Forest City Ratner Vice President to do that assessment and to go back and keep working up better numbers to “strengthen the argument” for the proposed real estate deal that would sell off and shrink Brooklyn libraries. Ergo, the $300 million is more than suspect, plus much of it was recently built up with recent deferrals of previously normal expenditures.

The idea, as the BPL minutes show, was to keep theses real estate deal ambitions secret and to try and have work on them so deeply entrenched the next administration could not respond to the public and derail the transactions.

See: Monday, September 15, 2014, Press Release: Citizens Audit and Investigation of Brooklyn Public Library- FOIL Requests- PRESS RELEASE & NEWS ADVISORY

Next, the BPL is not doing well on this transaction, and like the Donnell sale, when all is added up it may actually be a money-losing transaction. The BPL, is grossing only $52 million. There is a lot that needs to be netted out of that figure including all the transaction cost and the millions spend on consultants to vouch that this scheme IS NOT as harebrained as it is.

The BPL says it will spend $10 million to put back a much smaller library, but that figure is apparently low-balled and suspect. Building the much smaller 28,000 square foot Donnell replacement is costing $20 million before any overruns. Based on that figure the shrunken 21,000 square foot library that would replace the Brooklyn Heights Library would cost an even $15 million, and that’s before accounting for recently rising costs. Taking the BPL’s figure that Business and Career Library portion of the Heights Library is 28,000 square feet (again probably low-balled), replacing that would cost another $20 million, resulting in a $35 million total to net out against the $52 million (leaving just $17 million) before all the other transaction and consultant costs are netted out. . . . Plus, we won’t have a proper library for years- Even now, as part of this process they are shutting the library down to a great extent already, while the BPL is `assuring’ that once construction starts it won’t take more than three and a half years.

Next, this proposal for a 30-story tower does not show the proposed building using all of the available development rights that can be transferred in. The “gymnasium” for the Saint Ann’s School referred to in the Times isn’t free, the Saint Ann’s School will be part of the real estate transaction conveying its development right to Hudson through Forest City Ratner.

The off-site affordable housing somewhere else in Community Board 2 will probably use public subsidy to pay for them that could be used to provide other such units elsewhere where they not being sopped up as part of destroying and shrinking a library so a developer can board the luxury condo gravy train with this crony capitalism handout.

Lastly, the BPL ending its meeting last night proudly displaying a new virtual reference librarian system (that can respond to a patron’s inquiry with a week’s turnaround time) that by virtue of calculating “appeal factors” will tell emailers what books they want to read. Quote: “You don’t usually get his chance to have such a conversation with someone at the reference library desk.” - And this won’t be such a chance either, but it goes along with how we shrink libraries for real estate deals.
Sept. 22, 2014, 7:03 pm
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights says:
There seems to be some miscommunication about how TALL the new luxury tower would actually be (30 stories? or more?), likely the library's fault. The New York Times had to run this correction:

"Correction: September 19, 2014

An earlier version of this article, using information from a spokeswoman, misstated the height of a building proposed at the site of the Brooklyn Heights library branch. It would be 30 stories, not 20. The error was repeated in a photo caption and story summary."

How much more than that may we see with actual increases? There's a rumor of an unwritten agreement that the luxury tower won't be more than (originally 20) stories, but an unwritten agreement is not worth the paper its printed on.
Sept. 22, 2014, 7:14 pm
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights says:
This article says that "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, at the NYPL trustees meeting the day after the BPL voted, Jonathan Bowles, responsible for the Center for and Urban Future report said that all of their numbers used in the report were provided to the Center by the libraries . . . which means the numbers cited above were put together by Karen Backus a former Vice President of Forest City Ratner.
Sept. 22, 2014, 7:20 pm

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