Okay, not totally gone. The title is a bit melodramatic (but, oh so pithy!).
Here’s the rundown: Donnell (DLC in library jargon) is a research library located on 53 street in MoMA territory. There were rumors last year that the library building might be sold to MoMA.
The news broke in The New York Times today that the library was indeed sold. To Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. for $59 million. The current library will be razed and a hotel will be built in its place. The library will have (own) space on the first floor and in the basement of the hotel (there will be separate entrances).
Nypl president Paul LeClerc is quoted in the Times as saying: “We looked into the opportunity to capitalize on the asset itself, build a gorgeous new state-of-the-art collection and have a whole lot of money left over for other branches.” The extra money from the sale will go toward filling the needs of other branches.
DLC was in need of numerous renovations which, in a memo sent to staff via email, had a combined estimated cost of $48 million. The new library will open in the 11 story hotel in a little more than three years. It will have 28,000 square feet of space (I don’t know how many square feet the current DLC building is–it’s a five story building).
The staff message from LeClerc goes on to say: “The NYPL will have a new, ’state-of-the-art’ Donnell Library in an 11-story hotel building that Orient-Express will construct on the site. The Library will receive $59 million in cash, in addition to the value of the raw space, which we will own. We are certain that the new Donnell will serve our users’ needs better than the outdated facility.”
In the interim the library system is going to look for a “temporary Donnell site” so that the collection will remain accessible.
Despite the bizarreness of the plan and the initial shock (selling a public library?!), I’m cautiously supporting the endeavor. It’s a great source of revenue for the library (and perhaps publicity?). At the same time, the revenue will help bring the library further into the 21st century.
First and foremost, I am extremely amused that DLC wound up being sold to a hotel instead of MoMA. This new hotel will be one of the only non-museum buildings on the block. The museum buildings are new and shiny. Donnell isn’t that shiny anymore.
To quote the awesome Times article again: “We’re very conscious of the quality of design that is presently on that street,” said Mr. LeClerc, referring to the Museum of Modern Art’s new building across the way, and to other architecture. “We’re not going to be the poor, shabby neighbor anymore.”
Five of the hotel’s floors will connect to the 21 club located behind Donnell, but still. The area is a wasteland at night. I’m intrigued to see how the hotel will change that dynamic.
I remain cautious about the hotel/library plan after reading in the Times what Paul White, president and chief executive of Orient-Express, had to say about the pseudo-merger: “For me, the key advantage at this site — which offsets any potential negative about having a library in your basement — is that we’re contiguous with the ‘21’ Club,” Mr. White said.
I feel like this logic begs the question: what negatives could possibly be associated with having a library in your basement? Too many books? An increased interest in literacy? Patrons quietly reading?