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Redevelopment Plan for Aging Brooklyn Libraries Is 'Promising'

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The Brooklyn Public Library's plan to sell off some of its branches to developers has not been without its detractors, but New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman is not one of them. In his latest piece, Kimmelman calls the redevelopment plans "promising," particularly those laid out for the Brooklyn Heights and Sunset Park branches.

Let's start with his thoughts on the Brooklyn Heights Library. In September, library officials announced a plan to sell the property at 280 Cadman Plaza West to developer Hudson Companies, who proposed building a 20-story tower with 130 apartments. Kimmelman reports that the tower will actually be 38 stories with 132 units. Renderings by Marvel Architects revealed an angular tower topped by stepped terraces. The ground floor will hold a new 21,000-square-foot library, which is significantly smaller than the current 62,000-square-foot space. But officials say much of the space is not used; plus part of the current library, "a somewhat orphaned business library," will be relocated to the main branch at Grand Army Plaza.

Kimmelman says the project's red flag is the fact that the 114 affordable units promised by the developer will be located offsite, but he concedes that this is an "equitable" trade-off. The library sold the site for $51 million, which will cover the cost of outfitting this new library and repairing three other branches (Pacific Street branch near Atlantic Yards, Walt Whitman near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Washington Irving in Bushwick), plus leave the library with millions more.

Kimmelman also supports the redevelopment of the Sunset Park branch, where the Fifth Avenue Committee plans to replace the existing 12,000-square-foot "bunker" with a seven-story building. The new structure would have a 20,000-square-foot library, and all of its 50 units would be affordable. Tax credits would pay for the "shell of the new branch," and the library would only need to spend about $10 million to outfit it, which seems like a hefty bill, but Kimmelman points out that this is half the cost of building a completely new library.

In addition to these two concrete plans, Kimmelman thinks the de Blasio administration should also look into a "terrific" proposal for the Brighton Beach branch, which came out of a symposium that sought to rethink the future of the library. A team of designers concocted a plan for a mixed-income building with a new library and retail on the ground floor.

Making libraries a priority, argues Kimmelman, goes hand-in-hand with Mayor Bill de Blasio's agenda.

"They cater to pre-K toddlers, after-school teenagers, seniors, the unemployed looking for job training, and immigrants learning English as a second language. Nearly 150 branches are in or near flood zones. More than a few became safe havens after Hurricane Sandy. They're also shelters during heat waves. But broken air-conditioning means many older adults have a harder time finding lifesaving relief; crippled electrical systems mean a lack of outlets and computers to help bridge a digital divide that exacerbates the city's economic one."

· Evolution for Libraries in Brooklyn [NYT]
· All Brooklyn Public Library coverage [Curbed]
· All Brooklyn Heights Library coverage [Curbed]
· Sunset Park Library's Proposed Rentals Could Be $525 and Up [Curbed]
· Imagining the Design of the Library That Does Everything [Curbed]