Poker-faced City Council Member Stephen Levin (Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Boerum Hill, Williamsburg), won a potful of chips today in announcing his support for the $52 million sale of both the site and air rights of the Brooklyn Heights Public Library at 280 Cadman Plaza West.
The winnings include, among other things, the development of a brand new 5,000 square foot library to serve the DUMBO, Vinegar Hill, and Farragut Houses communities; a 9,000 square foot new building at Cadman Plaza West dedicated to STEM education labs administered by the NYC Department of Education and serving students in Brooklyn’s Community School District 13; and the library sharing some profits with the developer once a certain threshold of profitability is reached.
“The decision to sell a public asset should never be made lightly,” said Levin. “I believe that the new community benefits and protections added to this proposal, including an expansion of the new Brooklyn Heights Library and the first new branch added to the Brooklyn Public Library system since 1983, make it a good deal for the public and my community. Libraries are a vital resource for every neighborhood and New Yorkers depend on them for a place to learn, study, and grow.”
As first proposed, developer Hudson Companies would buy the site and build a new, 36-story tower, which would house a 21,500-square-foot library – a little more than 10,000-square feet less than the current library – retail space and 139 market-rate condos.
The deal also included 114 units of questionable affordable housing to be built on Atlantic Avenue offsite.
The proposal needed to go through the public approval process where it received a lukewarm recommendation of approval from Community Board 2, a thumbs down recommendation from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and fierce opposition from a strong contingent of grassroots constituents from the organization Citizens Defending Libraries.
This left Levin as the City Council point-person because the Council routinely approves the local member’s recommendation in which the district lies. Levin had continually said he didn’t like the project as proposed, but repeatedly refused to play his hand on which way he would vote.
That ended today when Levin announced his support for a substantially improved sale of the library as part of the Council’s Land Use Committee approval of the project.
In more detail, the major changes include:
- The size of the new Brooklyn Heights Library will be expanded by 24%, from 21,500 square feet to 26,620 square feet;
- A brand new, 5,000 square foot library will be created to serve the DUMBO, Vinegar Hill, and Farragut Houses communities – the first expansion of the Brooklyn Public Library System since 1983;
- 9,000 square feet in the new building at Cadman Plaza West will be set aside for dedicated STEM education labs administered by the NYC Department of Education and serving students in Brooklyn’s Community School District 13;
- The Brooklyn Public Library will commit to maintain seven-day-a-week service at the new Brooklyn Heights Library;
- The Brooklyn Public Library will commit to maintain robust programming at the New Brooklyn Heights Library and enter into a public process to gather community feedback on programming needs;
- The Brooklyn Public Library will partner with local business and entrepreneurship groups to create a new, 3,000 square foot ‘Technology & Business Services Center’ in the new Brooklyn Heights Library in order to preserve and enhance the technology-rich workspace and business-facing services of the current Business & Career Library and better meet the needs of a 21st Century workforce;
- The developer will agree to a recapture provision that will allow the Brooklyn Public Library to share in any profit above a benchmark rate of return;
- Higher end Area Median Income (“AMI”) limits for affordable housing units built as part of the project have been lowered. Units formerly at 165% AMI have been lowered to 125% AMI and units formerly at 100% AMI have been lowered to 80% AMI, deepening the affordability for New Yorkers;
- The project is supported by the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and SEIU 32BJ with an agreement on labor standards.
Brooklyn Public Library President & CEO Linda E. Johnson thanked Levin and called the library sale a win for everybody.
“We are one step closer to bringing a new, inspiring, state-of-the art library to Brooklyn Heights and a $40 million investment to libraries throughout the borough, including a new library in Dumbo/Vinegar Hill/Farragut. We look forward to continuing the review process with City Council and ensuring that our patrons will be served in world class libraries,” said Johnson.