B.P.C. library start pushed back again
By Julie Shapiro
A meeting about the fate of the Battery Park City library last week left more questions than answers.
With soaring construction costs and uncertain funding, the library is on shaky ground, officials said.
“We cannot go forward with this project until we have funding in place,” said Bob Bellinger, the New York Public Library associate director for government and community affairs.
The cost to build the Battery Park City library has risen 50 percent, Bellinger told Community Board 1 at a March 4 meeting. In 2004, the library estimated that it would cost $3.5 million to build out the library, including shelves, lighting and everything but the books. That price has now risen $1.72 million to $5.22 million, which does not include the $1 million needed for books.
The library first found out about the increase in early 2006, but the funding shortfall did not come to light until last summer. Then, City Councilmember Alan Gerson committed to fund the $1.72 million to finish building the library. The money, which Gerson expects will be in next fiscal year’s capital budget, will not be available until July or later, unless Gerson can secure last-minute funding.
“The promise of the money will not release the brake the money will release the brake,” said Percy Corcoran, a resident who has led the fight for the library. “Every minute that the brakes are on delays when they can start work, and every minute of delay in starting work delays when we can go in there and take out a book.”
It appears that the library’s opening will be delayed by the funding gaps. The library will be housed in 1 River Terrace, a condo tower that the Sheldrake Organization is building. Sheldrake is constructing the exterior shell and will then turn it over to the library for the interior fit-out.
Last week, Bellinger said the shell won’t be ready until the beginning of July, but a spokesperson for Sheldrake said this week that exterior work on the building is finished and the library could start building the interior now. The Center to End World Hunger, a nonprofit organization also located at 1 River Terrace, started constructing its interior space several months ago, a Hunger Center spokesperson said. Last fall, officials said they expected the space to be ready in February 2008.
Once the library gets the funding, it will take them two to three months to starts interior work and an additional 18 to 24 months to build the library, spokesperson Gayle Snible said.
In a deal brokered by C.B. 1 and the Battery Park City Authority, Goldman Sachs contributed $3.5 million at the end of 2005 to design and build out library. Since then, the account, held by the authority, has garnered roughly $360,000 in interest, according to documents obtained by Downtown Express. In the same period, the library withdrew $305,000 from the account to pay for design costs, Snible said. That leaves just over the original $3.5 million for construction.
Although the library can draw on that money at any time, it is the library’s policy to not start a project until all of the money is in place, Snible said. That means the library won’t move forward with any work before receiving the $1.72 million in City Council money. If the project is delayed, costs could rise further. The library’s current cost estimates are based on bids, but the final costs aren’t locked in until constructors sign contracts.
“The money is assured,” Gerson promised at last week’s meeting. If the library needs the money before July, as appears to be the case, “I will move heaven and earth to advance the $1.7 million,” he said.
After the meeting, Gerson said there are several ways to obtain the money before the new fiscal year begins. He could advance a capital budget modification or he could borrow funding from a project that is behind schedule and won’t need the money until after July.
Gerson has met with Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber to consider these alternatives, and Lieber is supportive, Gerson said.
Even after the City Council comes through with the $1.7 million, the library will still need an additional $1 million for books. The City Council money was originally going to cover books, but since construction costs increased, the money has to go toward construction instead.
At the C.B. 1 meeting, Gerson suggested that the community board look to the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. for that money.
“The city budget is looking very, very rough, even on the capital side,” Gerson said. He has spoken with David Emil, the L.M.D.C. president, about helping fund the library.
Last summer, Gerson assured the community that the City Council money would be available by the beginning of 2008. At last week’s meeting, Gerson defended his decision to not include the money in last year’s capital budget, saying it would not have made sense to ask for money that the library wouldn’t use until the following fiscal year. Getting the money too early could jeopardize it and also would have taken money away from projects that needed funding immediately, Gerson said.
Marti Cohen-Wolf, a Battery Park City resident for over 25 years, saw the funding shortfall as unfortunate and preventable.
“We didn’t have the foresight to realize that [the library] wasn’t going to be built the moment we got the money, so we should have requested a cushion,” Cohen-Wolf said, referring to inflation and rising construction costs. “Things are always more expensive than you expect them to be, especially in a city like New York.”
The facts and figures related to the library came to light in the days after last week’s B.P.C. Committee meeting, but the meeting itself was clouded by confusion about amounts and locations of money. That uncertainty led board member Tom Goodkind to renew his advocacy for an auditing taskforce.
“It’s not meant to be an audit like an I.R.S. audit,” Goodkind said. “It’s to simply report to the community what has been promised and what has been delivered.” Downtown developers often commit to fund community amenities, but Goodkind wants to follow up and keep track of what actually happens.
Julie Menin, chairperson of C.B. 1, said she didn’t think an auditing taskforce was necessary because the board’s office keeps track of amenities funding. She added that the confusion over the Battery Park City library is an isolated case.
Last week’s meeting grew contentious at times, with library officials blaming Gerson for the shortfall and C.B. 1 members disagreeing with community members about the negotiations that birthed the library.
“We’re all here for the same thing,” Bellinger reminded everyone, “to see the library open.”