New York

Delayed Development at Donnel Library May Get Going Again

Donnel Library

The Donnel Library, located at West 53rd Street across from the Museum of Modern Art, has been closed since 2008 in anticipation of a building project on the site which never took off.

Donnel Sold to Make Way for Hotel

After 52 years of servicing mid-Manhattan as one of the most heavily used of the New York Public Library’s branches, the modernist style building housing the Donnel Library was sold in 2007 to Orient-Express Hotels for $59 million. The plan in the works at that time was for Orient-Express to build an 11-story, $220 million hotel on the site, with part of the space reserved for a new incarnation of the library on the ground floor and in the basement, to be completed by 2011.

Recession Delays Construction

Soon after the deal was signed, the recession arrived, and Orient-Express tried to back out of the deal. A new contract was negotiated with Orient-Express agreeing to pay the full amount originally agreed, but just over a longer time frame. But still nothing has happened on the site nor have any development plans been announced.

However, the latest news is that Orient-Express has been talking to Tribeca Associates, also a hotel developer, including the projects of the Smyth Hotel and Artisan Lofts in Tribeca. According to a report from Crain’s New York Business the new plan is to build a $400 million hotel/condominium complex.

What about the Library?

Apparently the new deal cannot happen without the approval of the NYPL. David G. Offensend, the chief operating officer of the NYPL explained that the library must approve the new deal and the transfer of ownership. Mr. Offensend emphasized that the library will not approve anything less than the entire purchase price, the identical “quality and size” of library space, and the same time frame agreed upon with Orient-Express. This means that if all the parties do indeed adhere to the present contract, the Donnel should be given space by June 30, 2014.

“If we aren’t guaranteed all of that” with a new developer, “they won’t get our approval” Mr. Offensend said.


Shari has certainly been around the block. As a teacher, writer, former CEO and present day master chef, Shari can cover a human interest story with a flare and style hard to match anywhere. Born and raised in the streets, schools and institutions of Brooklyn, Shari is the epitome of Brooklyn life. Contact Shari at shari(at)