Hopes to lock in contract before end of the Bloomberg administration
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
While Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) has shelved its proposal to sell its historic Pacific Street Branch to a developer, it has pushed ahead with its controversial plan to redevelop the site of the Brooklyn Heights Branch, which also houses the borough’s Business Library.
On Thursday the Economic Development Corporation released a Request for Proposals (RFP) to find a developer for the roughly 26,600 square foot site at 280 Cadman Plaza West.
The project, which would most likely end up as a residential or mixed use tower, will replace the 51-year-old library building, which reopened in 1993 after a two-year renovation. According to BPL, the building requires more than $9 million in repairs, including $3.5 million to fix the air conditioning system.
Room in the project would be set aside for a new, smaller library branch, which would not include the Brooklyn Business Library. BPL plans to move the Business Library to the Central Branch in Prospect Heights. The new Brooklyn Heights Branch would be owned as a condominium unit by the city and operated by BPL.
BPL says it needs to sell the valuable property because years of budget cuts have mired it in debt. The sale of the Heights’ property “is intended to generate capital funds that can be invested in other BPL facilities to help address $300 million in deferred maintenance across the borough,” BPL said in a statement.
According to BPL, safeguards have been built into the RFP to “protect the Library and ensure that revenue generated from the development will directly support the institution.”
“Libraries play an increasingly vital role in Brooklyn’s communities and we are simply unable in the current branch to deliver the level of service the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood deserves,” BPL President and CEO Linda Johnson said.
“By working with the city and a development partner, we can build a brand new branch, and raise money to address some of the library’s overwhelming needs in other neighborhoods.”
BPL says it has incorporated input from the Community Advisory Committee into the RFP, including a commitment to provide uninterrupted library services to the neighborhood. BPL promises the new development will be “of the highest possible architectural quality and be sensitive to the historic nature of the Brooklyn Heights community.”
The Brooklyn Heights Branch facility currently occupies 37,000 square feet above grade and 26,000 square feet on two below-grade levels, for a total of 63,000 square feet. The RFP mandates that the new library must occupy at least 20,000 square feet, of which no more than 5,000 square feet can be below grade and which must be “oriented to maximize natural light.”
Deborah Hallen, secretary of the Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Branch Library Inc., told the Brooklyn Eagle in April that the 20,000 sq. ft. is probably equivalent to the “useful” floor space of the present branch, not including space belonging to the Business Library, such as the large ground-floor computer room.
“Some of the library’s current floor space is inefficiently allocated to corridors and subdivided areas; the new floor plan will be more open, requiring less staff and less office and storage space,” she said. Some items in storage will be moved offsite.
According to the RFP, the new library must have “high street visibility, with a prominent and recognizable entrance on Cadman Plaza that is welcoming and fully accessible, and will include an exterior book drop.” Green building and sustainability features are also mentioned as a plus.
The new library must include adult, teen and child reading and computer areas, a public self-service area, staff work rooms, a multipurpose auditorium and small meeting rooms.
After the developer has been designated, BPL says it will work with community stakeholders to design the new library space and determine the exact program.
The RFP requires that the developer provide an air conditioning and heating system for the entire building that is “capable of providing continuous, BPL-controlled access to heating and cooling systems,” which will be submetered.
The city will give preference to a developer offering a plan for an alternative space to be used by the community while the new tower is being developed. The interim site must be located within a half mile of the Heights Branch site, and be publicly accessible during the Brooklyn Height Library’s regular operating hours, among other requirements.
The final look and height of the project won’t be known until proposals, which are due by September 19, are submitted. Current zoning allows for 125,000 “zoning square feet” (the amount of usable square feet within a building) of residential, commercial or community facility use, which could be increased to 178,000 zoning square feet under the Inclusionary Housing Program. The height of a building with this square footage depends on the size of the footprint and other factors.
Once a development partner has been selected, the project will be subject to the city’s formal land use review process (ULURP), which requires further public input.
BPL’s Johnson said that the library has “engaged the community in this discussion from the beginning and will continue to incorporate public input every step of the way.”
BPL’s move to sell off valuable properties, however, has set off an acrimonious debate among residents protesting the turnover of public properties to private developers.
More than 11,000 people have signed an online MoveOn.org petition organized by Citizens Defending Libraries protesting Mayor Bloomberg’s defunding of the city’s libraries, necessitating the selling of the “crown jewels of the system” to the benefit of developers, and several protest rallies have taken place at the branch.
BPL said it wanted to lock in the contract before the end of the Bloomberg administration. Josh Nachowitz, BPL’s VP of Government and Community Relations said at a February 28 meeting of a library steering committee that BPL wanted to move quickly. “Sometime this year we hope to identify development partners, and enter a contract before the end of this administration.”
The RFP can be found at: http://www.nycedc.com/opportunity/brooklyn-heights-development-opportunity-rfp
The RFP is also available for in-person pick-up between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, at NYCEDC, 110 William Street, 6th floor, New York, NY (between Fulton and John Streets).