in the books

LIC Library Reveals Looming Shut-Down Date, With No New Home

The Court Square branch of the Queens Public Library.
The Court Square branch of the Queens Public Library. Photo: Christine Chung/THE CITY

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The Queens Public Library’s long standing Citigroup Tower branch in Long Island City will be shuttering on Feb. 15 with no replacement plan on the books.

At a Thursday morning meeting with community members and local elected officials, library leaders sought to give perspective on the reasons for the closure of the branch, whose fate previously hinged on Amazon’s now-defunct plans to move into the Queens neighborhood.

“It’s just been the complexity of trying to find space in this area which is a hot area … but we are fully committed to maintaining a Court Square Library,” said Queens Public Library’s President and CEO Dennis Walcott.

He noted that library officials had worked for more than a year to locate a new home for the branch, but had not been met with “benevolence.”

“We are trying to turn this around as quickly as possible,” Walcott said. “I can’t afford a short term and a long term” solution.

Walcott said the Queens Public Library is now considering two area locations , one of which is currently under construction. Ideally, a replacement could open by the end of the year, he added, but a mobile book bus will be available in the Court Square area on Mondays each week in the interim.

Walcott also mentioned a “potential long term deal” with Tavros Capital Partners, a developer constructing a 45-story apartment building across from the Citigroup Tower, though details were scant.

Abandoned by Big Developers

The library’s One Court Square branch first faced the threat of imminent closure last spring, as its lease was set to expire at the end of August 2019. In April, the library announced it had secured an lease extension until the end of March 2020.

The branch has been in the distinctive tower since it first opened in 1989 as the tallest building on Long Island. Since then, the Queens Public Library has paid an annual rent of $1 for its 3,200-square-foot space, under a deal with Citigroup.

But the banking giant no longer owns the building and will vacate its one million square feet in May.

Amazon had bookmarked the building as a foothold for its envisioned Long Island City headquarters, only to abandon plans for the area entirely last February in the face of local opposition.

Before that, the library had been working “diligently” with both Amazon and Savanna, the building’s current owner, to “retain” the branch, according to November 2018 library board minutes.

Former librarian Meghan Cirrito speaks at a rally to save the Queens Library branch at Court Square, with Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer to her left, on Jan. 8, 2020.
Former librarian Meghan Cirrito speaks at a rally to save the Queens Library branch at Court Square, with Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer to her left, on Jan. 8, 2020. Photo: Christine Chung/THE CITY

Citigroup declined to comment on whether it had sought to help the library negotiate beyond the initial extension or why the branch wasn’t staying until May.

Walcott said that multiple attempts were made to convince Savanna to let the branch remain but a deal “didn’t materialize.”

“It was said to us that they want to be the Time Warner Center Columbus Circle of LIC,” he added.

Eric Waters, a spokesperson for Savanna, said that the company did “engage” with the library to “offer viable alternative locations in the neighborhood.”

Waters added that Savanna plans to revamp the annex portion of the tower to “deliver a central Long Island City dining and retail destination for residents, office tenants, and visitors, making the most of the property’s excellent location and transportation.”

Community Board 2 in October floated the idea of dedicating space for the library in a luxury apartment complex planned for the former 5Pointz graffiti art site.

Developer Jerry Wolkoff told THE CITY that he met with Walcott “over a month ago” at the new Hunters Point library, but the plan was not financially viable. He pointed out that there are other libraries in the vicinity, including the Hunters Point branch about a mile away.

Elisabeth De Bourbon, a Queens Public Library spokesperson, said the 5Pointz offer was “off the table.”

Council Hearing Sought

Some local leaders and residents contend that the LIC branch’s closure was avoidable.

At a Wednesday rally hosted by several civic groups and Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Queens), library advocate Meghan Cirrito called the impending shutdown the “canary in the coal mine” in terms of transparency and planning, and demanded a City Council investigation.

“We must have a public library in Court Square. We must have continuous service in Court Square,” said Cirrito, president of the Friends of Court Square library group and a former children’s librarian.

Van Bramer — who chairs the Council committee that covers libraries and formerly worked as the Queens Library’s lobbyist, called the closure a “failure” on the library’s part.

“We all knew this deadline was coming several months ago and the library had the time and had the resources to get this done,” he said at the rally.

He added that his office was working with Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s to schedule a hearing about the LIC branch.

No hearing has yet been scheduled, according to Johnson spokesperson Jacob Tugendrajch.

Accessible and Popular

A source familiar with the Queens Public Library’s internal discussions about the branch said a long list of factors was weighed in finding a new library site, as shown by criticisms of the Hunters Point Library.

That branch, which opened in September after more than a decade of renovations costing $41 million, is not fully accessible, according to advocates for people with disabilities — though it meets federal standards. Three fiction sections previously weaved up sets of stairs that prevent the use of wheelchairs but the books were relocated after complaints and a federal lawsuit. The building has one elevator for its five floors.

The stairs and the view at the new Hunters Point Library.
The stairs and the view at the new Hunters Point Library. Photo: Christine Chung/THE CITY

Meanwhile, the Court Square library is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and parents say it has easy access for people pushing strollers.

“As many young families now live nearby, the fact that our local library is also ADA accessible, seen by the lines of strollers during children’s programming, but that the new one by the waterfront further away isn’t makes the situation more disgraceful,” said Frank Wu, president of the Court Square Civic Association.

Though local mom Danielle LoPresti Lee lives closer to the Hunters Point Library, she said she frequents the Court Square branch with her children more often.

“We take weekly trips to the library not just for the books but to do homework and for them to explore,” said LoPresti Lee, 34.

“I’m disappointed,” she said. “Libraries are vital for children.”

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