Drafting the Next Chapter
Brooklyn Public Library
Optimizing the library system’s real estate strategy to serve modern, changing needs.
Brooklyn Public Library, one of the nation’s largest library systems, first engaged U3 Advisors in 2007, to develop a long-term strategic real estate plan for its 58 branch libraries. Collectively, these occupied a physical plant of nearly 750,000 square feet. The Library was grappling with the significant disparity between capital needs for its aging facilities and the limited level of annual city funding. Furthermore, many of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods were seeing rapid demographic change, prompting the Library to realign its existing branch system and service goals to meet these evolving needs. As a modern library system, the branch libraries play a larger role than just a circulator of books; now more than ever, they serve as community gathering places, multi-lingual resource centers, safe havens, and vital links to information technology. The Library’s facilities needed significant planning and investment in order to serve these purposes.
U3 and its team, which included an architect and land use attorney, completed a comprehensive review of each of the Library’s facilities. The review analyzed each branch’s physical condition, including a review of building exteriors, interior, and systems, as well as their programmatic success, including branch usage statistics and programs offered relative to local demographics. Finally, U3 assessed opportunities for redevelopment or public/private partnerships (P3), to potentially introduce an outside source of capital and reduce replacement costs.
To integrate each of these components, U3 formulated a data-driven, analytic framework that guided prioritization of capital projects and evaluation of new redevelopment opportunities. Based on this assessment, U3 and its team recommended potential options to meet the Library’s long-term needs, seeking to find the best balance between the Library’s service delivery, capital needs, and resources. The Library then re-engaged U3 to prepare a financial feasibility analysis of the recommended option, including projecting system-wide capital and operating cost impacts.
U3 Advisors has continued to work with BPL to implement the preferred strategy and continues to serve as the Library’s on-call real estate advisor. In 2013, U3 helped the Library prepare a Request for Proposals jointly with the NYC Economic Development Corporation for the redevelopment of its Brooklyn Heights branch. After an extremely competitive selection process, The Hudson Companies was selected as developer. This transaction will yield a new, local branch of 21,000 square feet and $51 million of much-needed cash proceeds to be reinvested in the library system. In 2018, U3 worked with BPL to select a site for the Library’s newest branch in the DUMBO neighborhood, the library’s first new branch built since 1983 and paid for in part from the proceeds of the Brooklyn Heights branch redevelopment. U3 assisted BPL to evaluate a range of potential sites based on a number of criteria, including proximity to transit and other neighborhood amenities, accessibility, and overall economics. The new 6,500 SF branch will open in 2021 and is on the ground floor of a former factory building that fronts Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Through better understanding their real estate assets and aligning facilities to neighborhood needs, BPL is well prepared for its next chapter.