Brooklyn Heights can bid farewell to its beloved Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) branch, as the library’s board of trustees unanimously approved last week a proposal to sell the land beneath the branch to a developer.
At a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 16, BPL trustees voted in support of the plan to sell off the branch, so long as the developer — Hudson Companies — builds a library on the ground floor.
For $52 million, Hudson Companies will buy the property and build a library, which will be nestled in a 30-story, mixed-use building and surrounded by apartments, retail shops, community space and a gym for St. Ann’s school.
In total, the library will be housed in a 21,000-square-foot space on the ground and basement floors of the new building. Currently, the Brooklyn Heights branch consists of the neighborhood branch library and a Business and Career Library, which take up 28,000 square feet.
Linda Johnson, president of the BPL, said that the decision was made based on numbers. The BPL is allocated $15 million in capital funding by the city every year, but she says that the 60 branches are in need of $300 million for repairs.
“Without this bold step, we have just enough money to take care of dire needs,” Johnson said.
The developers are expected to break ground on the three-and-a-half year project in 2016, though they must first go through the Uniform Land Use Review Process. During that time, the community will be allowed to provide input.
One group is already advocating to save the Brooklyn Heights branch, along with numerous other branches throughout the borough.
Michael White heads Citizens Defending Libraries (CDL), a group that is fighting the “selling and shrinking” of libraries throughout the city. CDL hosted a rally outside of Tuesday’s meeting, where he and other supporters announced their citizens’ audit and investigation of the BPL.
White expressed serious concerns about the future of all of the city’s libraries, particularly after he closely examined ten years of minutes from library meetings and discovered, he said, “extraordinary things […] that have not been made public.”
One of those discoveries is a list of branches that White said have all been discussed in meetings as being for sale, up for redevelopment or included in other real estate plans. Those branches include Pacific Branch, Sunset Park Branch, Red Hook Branch, Williamsburg Branch, Brower Park Library, Midwood Library, Gravesend Library, Clinton Hill Library and McKinley Park Branch.
With those discoveries in mind, CDL announced their investigation and their Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests for the BPL, the purpose of which “is to probe more deeply into recent disclosures about the BPL’s secret real estate and development plans.”
White said that he believes the BPL administration is keeping its real estate plans a secret because it was “dangerous information to get out, because if the public knew that we were going to be selling and shrinking its libraries, the public would be outraged. The public would be protesting.”
He hopes that the investigation of the library will bring new information to light and get other citizens involved in the fight to keep libraries off the market.
“I think we are asking some very serious questions, and I think those questions and their answers will be very embarrassing for the Brooklyn Public Library,” White said at the press conference. “All of the questions that we are asking are the questions that everybody else should be asking.
“This is the end of the BPL operating in secrecy,” he added. “This is the end of the BPL operating without scrutiny.”