A sale of the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library to real estate developer the Hudson Companies for $52 million will be recommended when the library’s board convenes Tuesday evening as a method to finance necessary renovations, improve service and create new housing (both market rate and affordable units). The recommendations come after a request for proposals (RFP) last year to develop the site and replace the library on the ground floor with a new facility as part of the sale.
At a meeting held at the branch with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Brooklyn Public Library President Linda E. Johnson explained how the board narrowed in on the Hudson Companies and what the plan would entail.
“This one of the most competitive requests for proposals we have ever seen,” Johnson said. “We received about fourteen proposals, and it took some time to reduce it to seven, and a full year to get down to just three. Over the summer we narrowed it down futrher, to the one we thought was the most optimal.”
Together with Marvel Architects, the Hudson Companies would create a mixed-use project on the site with a brand new, state-of-the-art library at the very same location where the existing 1962 structure currently stands. The sale would eliminate over $9 million in repairs needed for the existing Brooklyn Heights Branch, though from the $52 million price tag, BPL estimates about $10 million will be needed immediately to fully “fit out” the new facility to be ready for the public (Hudson will not bear this additional cost).
Still, that leaves about $40 million for the board to shower upon other branches in dire need of funding. Payments of $6 million and $4 million respectively to the Walt Whitman and Washington Irving Branches will leave them fully funded, while $3.5 million for the Pacific Branch will fix the facility’s Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) noncompliance.
“With the additional funding, we looked at the nature of the other branches and tried to tackle issues where we could fix infrastructure while also modernizing at the same time,” Johnson said.
In exchange for the land, the Hudson Companies will build 114 new affordable housing units elsewhere, in addition to 132 market rate units to be built on site. Hudson has not yet picked a location for the affordable units, but will be required to build them in Community Board 2, where the land they are purchasing from the city is located.
During an estimated construction phase of three-and-a-half years, Our Lady of Lebanon Church will lease space within its facility at 113 Remsen Street as an interim library for an undisclosed amount (negotiations are still ongoing, BPL said). The “fit out” cost for the temporary site will be borne by Hudson.
Though the agreement involves many working parts, Johnson maintains sufficient checks and contingencies are in place in the event of delays or noncompliance.
“The affordable housing units must be ready to be occupied before the market rate-units can be occupied, and there are penalities in place if the construction takes longer than three-and-a-half years years,” Johnson said. “This is all in the agreement. We can even retake the property if there is a failure to comply.”
The new library will be required to provide 20,000 square feet, 15,000 “above grade” (some of the library will be in a basement floor below).
“We will require the developer to adhere to safeguards and protecgt the public interest,” Johnson said.
An additional 13,000 square feet of space for a business and career library, currently at the Brooklyn Heights Branch, will move to the main branch, where it will be more suitable (for many of those who use it, coming from central Brooklyn).
Though the land involved in the transaction is actually owned by the city, it would be sold by the city’s economic development corporation with the proceeds reverting to the Brooklyn Public Library pursuant to an agreement and understanding between the two city entities.
Critics contend the entire library system remains underfunded despite record economic growth in the borough and a range of other projects receiving new allocations. The announcement comes the same day a group known as Citizens Defending Libraries announced its commencement of a Citizens Audit and Investigation of Brooklyn Public Library Board, for what they claim is a years-long plan to sell certain branches under the guise of a lack of funding.
“A citizens’ review of a decade’s worth of minutes of the Brooklyn Public Library trustees meetings obtained for the benefit of Citizens Defending Libraries recently disclosed far more than was ever previously publicly known or revealed to the press, including many shocking revelations about how the BPL has been secretly planning for many years to sell off and shrink Brooklyn public libraries pursuant to creation of a ‘strategic real estate plan,’” said Carolyn E. McIntyre of Citizens Defending Libraries.
Indeed, a request for proposals that would sell only the air rights above the property, or to offer a ground lease but keep ownership of the land (thereby generating recurring rental payments from a developer to finance continued maintenance), were not considered.
“That’s not something we spent a lot of time on,” Johnson said, describing attempts to simply fund the current facility, as opposed to erecting a completely new structure, as “throwing good money after bad.”
BPL claimed their considerations included the overall sale price (Hudson was the second highest next to another bidder the board did not name, but which was only “marginally higher”) combined with the ability to erect affordable housing units and endure a Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP, which is triggered whenever city land is sold, despite no zoning variance needed for the proposed structure as planned), attendant environmental reviews and other potential delays involving lawsuits and community opposition.
“Some feel this happened too quickly, while others feel its appropriate,” Johnson said. “And some are just opposed to any development at any time. But people need spaces to work collaboratively, along with quiet reading. There are people who need help with resumes. Others need classes to learn English. This new branch will allow for all of that, along with a lot of new technology that the neighborhood has long been clamoring for.”