Brooklyn Heights

De Blasio administration defends sale of Brooklyn Heights Library

May 23, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The de Blasio administration on Monday defended its oversight of the $52 million deal to redevelop the Brooklyn Heights Library into a 36-story luxury tower. Shown: Hudson’s luxury tower is shown center right, on the site of the current Brooklyn Heights Library.  Rendering courtesy of Marvel Architects

Denies knowledge of investigations

The de Blasio administration on Monday denied that the city chose a friend and contributor as the winning bidder in the $52 million deal to redevelop the Brooklyn Heights Library, over bids that paid more. The Mayor’s Office added that it is unaware of any investigations into its role in the controversial sale.

On Sunday, the New York Post claimed the deal, which has roiled Brooklyn Heights, has attracted the attention of federal and city prosecutors.

Opponents of the sale accuse Mayor Bill de Blasio of choosing developer Hudson Cos. to buy the Heights branch at 280 Cadman Plaza West despite Hudson submitting a bid that was $6 million less than a competitor’s.

This accusation comes at a time when the administration’s role in another controversial real estate deal is being looked at by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

De Blasio spokesperson Austin Finan, however, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday, “Hudson Companies was awarded the contract meritoriously as its bid provided the best overall package for the library and the community at large, including the most affordable housing.”

Hudson plans to build a 36-story luxury tower, with a new, smaller Brooklyn Heights branch on the ground floor and below ground. Marvel Architects will design the building. In addition, 114 units of affordable housing will be built in Clinton Hill.

Hudson is outfitting a temporary library space on Remsen Street to be used during the three- to four-year construction period.

“‎We worked very hard on our proposal for the Brooklyn Public Library, which includes a $52 million purchase price, double the amount of required affordable housing and an interim library to maintain service during construction,” a Hudson spokesperson told the Eagle on Monday.

The spokesperson added, “We participated in 11 public hearings, which culminated in an overwhelming vote of approval by the City Council. This was one of the most reviewed, questioned, transparent and public processes for a development. And as far as we know, none of the purported subpoenas have had anything to do with the Brooklyn Public Library project.”

Worries about overcrowded schools and sale of city assets

The development provoked numerous objections over concerns of overcrowded Heights schools, the shrinkage of public library space and the off-siting of the affordable housing component, but was endorsed by the Brooklyn Heights Association.

On Monday, the city defended the process.

“The city worked with the Downtown Brooklyn branch of the Brooklyn Public Library to relocate to an improved facility while freeing up crucial space for affordable housing in the neighborhood — a project that passed through a thorough public approval process including sign-off from the City Council,” Finan said. “The RFP process for this project followed a strict protocol,” he added.

The City Council gave the project the green light in December after Councilmember Stephen Levin worked out more perks for the community, including more floor space in a rebuilt (though smaller overall) branch, a STEM lab for students and a small DUMBO branch library.

The sale will generate roughly $40 million towards $300 million of Brooklyn Public Library’s capital repair needs.

NY Post: Subpoenas sent to competing developers

The offices of Bharara and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance have sent subpoenas to several of the 14 developers that bid on the project, sources told the Post. Hudson President David Kramer, a friend and contributor to de Blasio, is “one of many people being looked at,” but has not been subpoenaed, the Post said.

The Post claims that at least two competing developers not only offered to pay the library more money, but several proposed to build affordable units on the site.

Brooklyn-based Second Development Services (SDS) offered the library $6 million more than did Hudson and 117 affordable units, according to the Post.

An administration source told the Eagle, however, that there were concerns about SDS’s ability to execute its proposal (a concern that applied to some of the other proposals as well). In addition, SDS proposed to build its affordable housing outside the borough, which the city did not believe was acceptable.

The Hudson library proposal was slightly larger (1,100 ft. larger) than SDS’s proposal, and offered more affordable units (114 vs. 73) the source said. Hudson also offered an earlier construction completion commitment (3 years vs. 4 years) and overall completion commitment (4 years vs. 6 years). All of these reasons made Hudson’s offer “more compelling.” The source said SDS’s offer was only $1 million less.

Michael D.D. White, co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries, a group that has fought the sale of the library, told the Eagle on Monday, “Mayor de Blasio, exemplifying all the wrong motivations, was willing to make his decision to sell the library to this particular politically connected developer shafting the public with a super low price. . . .  Those way off-target motivations confront us smack-dab with the far bigger question: Why should we be selling this valuable, irreplaceable library at all?”