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Today, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio joined advocates and activists in opposing the New York Public Library’s plan to renovate the Central Library located on Fifth Avenue. The proposed $300 million renovation project stands to not only remove the existing seven floors of stacks in place but also includes plans to sell two of the most important libraries in the City—the Mid-Manhattan Library as well as the Science, Industry, and Business Library. These libraries have served as a fundamental and critical source of academic information for students and researchers, and any changes to the existing infrastructure and supplies will negatively impact future services and limit public accessibility. De Blasio, in a letter to Mayor Bloomberg, expressed his concerns over the proposed budget and is calling for an independent cost audit and review of the proposed renovation. De Blasio also asked that the same consideration be given to the plans for the Brooklyn Public Library.

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“These plans seemed to have been made without any forethought to the building’s historical and cultural integrity,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “We need to ensure that a detailed financial audit and review is conducted, so that these renovations won’t exceed the $300 million proposed. Before NYPL goes about demolishing stacks and consolidating libraries, they need to ensure that the people they serve aren’t being shortchanged and being disregarded for the bottom line.”

Read de Blasio’s letter to Mayor Bloomberg:

July 12, 2013

Hon. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

I am writing to express my deep concern over the proposed changes to the City’s library systems in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I am calling on the City to halt the New York Public Library’s plans at the Central Library, and for a thorough, independent cost audit and review of the proposed project. In addition, I am calling for a reconsideration of the Brooklyn Public Library’s plans for the Brooklyn Heights and Pacific branches until a similar review can be completed.

The City’s three public library systems are critical public cultural institutions and have served our City well – supporting scholars and independent researchers, providing resources and services for immigrants and job-seekers, and serving as an intellectual home and refuge for life-long learners and avid readers. Over the past 12 years, these institutions have faced budget cuts and public divestment, struggled to meet operating costs, forced to reduce hours and services, and suffered from hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance on aging air conditioners, boilers, computers and roofs. But these fiscal challenges are not a rationale to engage in drastic measures – if anything, they underscore the need for prudence, frugality and caution.

The “Central Library Plan,” which involves a $150 million in dedicated City funds, would close and sell off the Mid-Manhattan Library and the Science, Industry, and Business Library, consolidating operations at the crown jewel of the New York library system – the Fifth Avenue Central Library of the New York Public Library. The plan involves a dramatic alteration by architect Norman Foster and the relocation of a substantial portion of the site’s distinguished research stacks.

The NYPL claims this renovation would cost $300 million and save the system substantial funds in the long run. But recent testimony by Tony Marx, President of the New York Public Library, suggested this estimate has not been corroborated by independent sources, and that the figure is preliminary. Outside critics have identified the substantial engineering challenges associated with the proposed renovation and are skeptical that the plan’s $300 million price tag wouldn’t grow much larger, potentially catastrophically so. The City should immediately halt all plans to sell Mid-Manhattan Library and the Science, Industry, and Business Library to developers until a thorough, independent, and publicly disclosed assessment is completed. This review should evaluate the complete financial risks associated with the current plan, and seriously consider alternative ways to use City funds to ensure the preservation of the NYPL’s valuable collection stored at the Central Library and preserve the Mid-Manhattan branch as a functioning library. In the words of the New York Time’s architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, “the last thing [library officials] want to be remembered for is trashing their landmark building and digging a money pit.”

Similarly, the Brooklyn Public Library system has explored the option of selling the Brooklyn Heights and Pacific Street branches to developers in order to raise money to support the system and alleviate the need to make repairs at those sites. These sales – which would turn over public land permanently to private parties – should not be rushed through in the waning days of the Bloomberg administration. The Brooklyn Public Library needs money, and a reasonable and sensitive plan involving the retention of community library space and partial redevelopment might be worth consideration. But a much more thorough review is needed. We need to ensure we are driving the hardest bargain possible with the developers and maximizing the public’s return on the land.

Thank you for your attention in these matters,

Bill de Blasio
Public Advocate for the City of New York

Cc: Tony Marx, President and CEO of the New York Public Library
Linda Johnson, President of the Brooklyn Public Library


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