Pacific Street Library: Not for sale (for now), but grim fate awaits

The managers of a Park Slope community space are worried the timeless Pacific Street branch of the Brooklyn Public Library is for sale and will ultimately be demolished, and have even directed concerned residents to an online petition to thwart the effort. Officials deny the allegation, but admit a new branch is ultimately in the works at a nearby construction site, with a plan to transfer the Pacific Street site’s activities, leaving the fate of the property unclear.

“Looks like the Pacific Street Library is up for sale again,” says a post for the Brooklyn Lyceum, a non-profit event venue just down the road on Fourth Avenue. The post went on to direct viewers to an online petition protesting the Brooklyn Public Library’s alleged fire-sale of its assets to real estate developers. “It is a bit long and dry but the issues are important,” the online post explains. 

Officials were quick to play down rumors, while distinguishing their expansion and relocation plans from a “sale” of the property. But they also mentioned the “Building a Better Pacific Library” plan, whereby “Two Trees Management Company, a Brooklyn-based real estate developer, is currently building a multiuse cultural and housing complex at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Ashland Place, two blocks from the existing Pacific branch.” 

“BPL would move its services from the existing building to the new, larger location when the South Site project is complete, likely sometime in 2017,” the plan states. “In the meantime the Pacific branch would remain open and would continue to function.” 

But what happens to the Pacific Street building after its library services are transferred out? It looks like the concerned citizens may be right about a sale–even if the transaction is not imminent.

The BPL cites budget constrains as the reason for the move, while failing to mention the Pacific Street building, a 1903 Carnegie, is not landmarked, and included in a 2011 rezoning that allows twelve story high-rises on the site.

In short: there’s a huge profit to be made on gleaming new residential construction, once a modest-height, anachronistic facade cherished only by library advocates and preservationists is out of the way. 

Michael D. White, an attorney, urban planner and former government public finance and development official who runs the blog Noticing New York, smells a rat.

“The defunding of the city library system [occurs] in order to create a ‘demolition by neglect’ financial crisis and holding out the carrot that it will restore funding to the library system only if the public goes along with the selling off of library sites for the sake of real estate deals,” White wrote in one of his posts on the subject.

Though Two Trees management is currently developing the downtown Brooklyn site where the Pacific Street Library will be moved, White sees Forest City Ratner as the most natural recipient of the Pacific Street branch site.

White advised that the Brooklyn Public Library is purposefully being hard to pin down about what they are planning to do respecting the sale of the Pacific Branch Library, previously one of their top priorities to sell until community opposition thwarted prior efforts. Though Two Trees management is currently developing the downtown Brooklyn site where the Pacific Street Library will be moved, White sees Forest City Ratner as the most natural recipient of the Pacific Street branch site.

If Forest City Ratner acquires the site of the Pacific branch library, it can extend its contiguous multi-acre Atlantic Yards empire and cheaply obtain extra benefit by also acquiring and closing down a new section of Pacific Street so as to connect the former library site to its contiguous Atlantic Yards acreage,” White wrote. “Forest City Ratner has a long history of obtaining private ownership and closing down public streets.”

Both Forest City Ratner and Two Trees Management did not respond to requests for comment.

Developers’ plans aside, the local advocacy group that started the petition sees boundless public resources squandered for short-term financing and the benefit of the few in place of many.

Selling irreplaceable public assets at a time of increased use and city wealth is unjust, shortsighted, and harmful to our prosperity,” says the Citizens Defending Libraries petition. “These plans…undermine democracy, decrease opportunity, and escalate economic and political inequality.”