LIBRARY ON THE BLOCK: Plans to sell Brooklyn Heights branch building gets a hearing Tuesday night

January 28, 2013 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The planned sale of the building shared by the Brooklyn Heights and business branch libraries will be discussed publicly on Tuesday night by an official from Brooklyn Public Library system.

Vice President of Government and Community Relations Josh Nachowitz is expected to provide details and answers questions at the 6:30 p.m. session, in the second floor Children’s Room of the branch at 280 Cadman Plaza West near Tillary Street.

Earlier this month, the Brooklyn Eagle reported that the Brooklyn Public Library has been planning to move the Brooklyn Business & Career Library from Brooklyn Heights to the central branch at Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Heights. It was also reported that the BPL plans to temporarily relocate the adjacent Brooklyn Heights branch and possibly sell the building that the two branches share to a developer.

The Eagle report caused a stir across Downtown and Brooklyn Heights, where the Business Library has long been viewed as an important resource to Brooklyn’s legal communities that are within walking distance, as well as to the professional residents nearby.

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“The Brooklyn Heights/Business Library branch has become extremely costly to maintain and difficult to operate — in fact, last summer we were forced to close the branch entirely or early on 30 different days [because of a broken air conditioning system],” BPL spokesperson Jason Carey told the Eagle. “The branch is in need of approximately $9 million for repairs, funding we do not currently have given our limited capital budget for work throughout the borough.

“Accordingly, we are considering whether it would make sense to work with a developer on a project that would include a new library at this location. Any project would involve an interim service location during construction.

“We are just beginning to chart a path forward with the community and look forward to working with local stakeholders as we go forward.”

The Business Library predates the Brooklyn Public Library system, opening on Atlantic Avenue in 1852 (as the Brooklyn Athenaeum) and moving to Montague Street (as the Mercantile Library) soon after. It moved into the present “Modern-style” building in 1962. The current building was renovated and expanded in 1993.

Plans to move the library, not previously discussed publicly, were buried in a 17-page “Plan of Service” for 2012-2016. The Plan says the business branch will become a “24/7 resource through the use of online training, guides and other web-based initiatives, with BPL Central staff delivering services to job seekers and entrepreneurs.

But some Downtown and Heights residents found the move perplexing.

“This is the third largest business district in the city,” Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said when the news broke. “It seems odd to move the business library further away.”

The branch gets “a lot of customers and runs a lot of programs,” a library insider said. “Why would anybody go to Prospect Heights? They work here — all of Court Street, the real estate people, banks. Eastern Parkway is a residential area.”

Even BPL itself boasts online about the business library’s current Downtown location, “the borough’s business, financial and civic district.”

A report on the city’s libraries issued last month by Center for the Urban Future said the Business Library’s specialized information and start-up competitions have “helped inspire a broader entrepreneurial culture.”

Programming and events range from starting a tech and digital media business to free job and financial counseling.

The Business Library offers a number of important business databases,  the Center reports, “such as Local Market Audience Analyst, which provides demographic, segmentation and targeting data for media planners and consumer markets, and New York State Contract Reporter, which lists all contracts greater than $15,000 that are up for bid in New York State.”

As part of a systemwide shakeup, BPL has said it may move, downsize or consolidate an undetermined number of branches that it considers underutilized, with the system shifting from books to digital media and services.

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