September 19, 2014

Brooklyn Public Library announces branch sale to developer; Citizens Defending Libraries launches investigation


A rendering of the new Brooklyn Heights branch that will include apartments and retail space after the BPL sells the space to a develo.

A rendering of the new Brooklyn Heights branch that will include apartments and retail space after the BPL sells the space to a developer.

Brooklyn Public Library’s unanimous vote on Tuesday to approve a 52 million dollar sale of the Brooklyn Heights Branch to developer Hudson Companies was met with outrage from Citizens Defending Libraries, the group who participated in the outcry against the New York Public Library’s Central Library Plan, which was halted earlier this year.

Organizer Michael D. D. White notes that “Selling the library for a gross price of $52 million means that it is pretty clear that, like the Donnell sale [a NYPL branch in Manhattan], they will be selling the library for far less than it would cost to properly replace it.”

The Brooklyn Heights Branch will be torn down to create a 20 story building designed by Marvel Architects that will have apartments and retail space. The library will occupy the ground floor and basement of the new space, with a total of half of the square footage it has now. The Business and Career Library that was located in Brooklyn Heights branch will be moved to the Grand Army Plaza main branch. The board of the library says 40 million dollars from the sale will be used to go toward repairs and the needs of other libraries in Brooklyn. While the Brooklyn Heights Library is under construction, the books will be stored in Our Lady of Lebanon Church nearby. 

The New York Times notes that the Brooklyn Public Library’s decision to sell the building is a result of funding problems:

The announcement comes a day after the Center for an Urban Future released a report about the financial and infrastructural health of the city’s three library systems — the New York, Brooklyn and Queens Public Libraries. The report said that the city’s libraries needed $1.1 billion for repairs, and said the libraries relied on a “broken funding system,” which had made them overly dependent on discretionary funds from City Council members.

Meanwhile, Citizens Defending Libraries rallied its members to hold a protest on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library main branch at Grand Army Plaza. Organizer Michael D. D. White announced the launch of the “Citizens Audit and Investigation of the Brooklyn Public Library” to “bring an end to the secrecy” and to ask the board to tell the public which libraries are for sale and to be transparent about plans to sell public libraries to private developers. He describes using the Freedom of Information “Sunshine Act” to access the minutes for board meetings.

Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.