Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Council: Tobacco Warehouse Should Stay Public, Multi-Use Facility

BBPCC rendering of proposed alternative use of Tobacco Warehouse open space

Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Tobacco Warehouse must remain a public, multi-use facility and maintain its current mix of indoor/outdoor space, says The Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Council in a report provided exclusively to BHB.

The BBPCC, a coalition of neighborhood groups and supporters of the park, states that, “the Tobacco Warehouse should remain a stabilized, architectural ruin, activated with enhancements that allow it to be a flexible, public, multipurpose outdoor space accommodating a wide variety of activities, and not dominated by one use or group.” It includes proposals for enhanced use of the space as well as a historical perspective from Francis Morrone.

Read the full document after the jump.

This report is in reaction to word that the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation is preparing to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) to developers for renovation of the Warehouse into a cultural arts center.

Sources claim that DUMBO’s largest developer, Two Trees, has been floating a plan since Spring to convert the facility into a glass roofed, single use venue. They reportedly plan to house St. Ann’s Warehouse (soon to be displaced by their Dock Street project) and another arts group.

As for the landmark status of the Warehouse, the NYC LPC does not have jurisdiction over the building as it is in a New York State controlled park. The LPC could, however, write a letter stating its recommended course of action. The ultimate decision regarding to roof or not to roof would fall under New York’s State Historic Preservation Office. It could be a slippery slope for preservationists as Two Trees’ rumored plan proposes to glass roof the structure at its original 1860s height.

Roofing and narrowing its use would be in direct conflict with a list of 6 goals of the Tobacco Warehouse created by the BBPCC, based upon “25 years of community consensus”. It states:

1. OPENNESS maintain a roofless open space
2. HISTORY preserve the historic structure as “a stabilized ruin”
3. ECOLOGY create an environmentally sustainable space
4. REVENUE create the potential for generation of revenue for program and facility support
5. ACCESS provide year-round public access
6. USE FLEX allow use of the space for a large variety of things throughout the year

That’s before you get sucked into thinking that the “fix is in” for the Two Trees’ scenario to move forward. The BBPCC insists that the process needs to be public and transparent to insure that the Tobacco Warehouse remains part of the park and doesn’t fall into private domain.

The BBPCC supporter’s group as of today’s report includes:

the American Institute of Architects – Brooklyn Chapter
the American Institute of Architects – New York Chapter
the American Society of Landscape Architects – New York Chapter
the Atlantic Avenue LDC
the Boerum Hill Association
the Brooklyn Heights Association
Concord Village Owners
the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance
the Fine Arts Federation
the Fulton Ferry Landing Association
JoAnne Simon, NYS Committeewoman, 52nd Assembly District
the Historic Districts Council
the Van Alen Institute
the Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association

The report was prepared by NV/da and dlandstudio for the BBPCC.

Tw Report v5

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  • fulton ferry res

    Excellent presentation! Helloooo out there? Anyone have any comments on the possibility of State Parks approving the addition of two stories and a roof on the majestic open-air Tobacco Warehouse? And privatizing the space for a single arts group?

  • ashton

    I like the presentation, but who out there will pay for its construction and upkeep? It is a fantasy.
    A real arts group with a real patron with deep pockets is proposing a new theater for the site. Not a nuclear weapons factory, but a theater, with heat and air conditioning and audio equipment and seats, you know, grown-up like. How, how, how, could the state oppose a freebie like that?
    I am more and more convinced that the neighborhood associations are totally out of touch with planet earth and are seeking to block, in the midst of this recession, a viable, heaven-sent plan for the site.

  • bklyn20

    The Tobacco Warehouse can be a unique historic, multi-purpose space AND make money for the park without it turNing into a mini-mall over–commercialized cash cow. It can be an urban ruin that helps pay for the park.

    The presentation is very pretty, but it avoids a vital issue:
    WE MUST HAVE ALTERNATIVE SOURCES OF REVENUE FOR BROOKLYN BRIDGE PARK if the additional housing is to be stopped.

    I believe the BHA is sponsor of the presentation. I applaud the BHA’s many good works in our neighborhood, but as most of you should know by now, the BHA is in favor of the 1,000+ luxury condo plan to fund Brooklyn Bridge Park. And as most of you also probably know, I and many other people are diametrically opposed to the stealth condopark plan.

    The TW (abbreviation to save time, sorry) should not see its revenue go back to to the BBP Conservancy, nor to another non-profit. How much money has the Conservancy made off TW events, and how was it used? I’m not suggesting gross malsfeasance here, but there should be no gatekeeper between the park and the TW revenue. The revenue must go directly into the park maintenance.

    There are many possibilites for the TW’s use without a permanent roof and without turining it into a 365/24/7 wedding factory or the Angelica Cinema of Dumbo — sorry, but there are PLENTY of other spaces in Dumbo for that. Why not consider:

    1.A year-round farmer’s market, possible along with …
    2.A space for artists and artisans to sell their wares — and not the 90% schlock you see in Union Square on the weekends.
    3. A site for occasional events — with a removable tent roof if neessary, for school graduations, the occasional party, the odd wedding (odd in any sense you ‘d like…)
    4. Performances by arts groups
    5.”Open” times when the general public can explore the space as well.

    It is important to also note that, as I understand from excellent sources, the Dumbo Neighborhood Association and the Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Asociation DID NOT sign on to this proposal. If any officers of these organizations woudl like to weigh in, please do so. I imagione this is a very divisive issue for all the neighborhoods there, but the space can serve the larger park needs without embalming it or turining it into South Street Seaport east. To get a real park we need to look at all possible revenue alternatives.

  • bkre

    I don”t think anyone has been taking about a mini-mall. I think the two visions for the space are to leave it as a ruin, which would mean that it would be open to everyone, but programming would be limited to nice weather days. Or it could be enclosed and turned into a theater, which would allow programming year round, would provide a great cultural destination in the park, but would restrict public access to the site and put it into the control of one entity. I think the notion that the Tobacco Warehouse could be a revenue generator that would supplant one of the current residential site shows a lack of understanding of real estate economics. Due to its historic nature and location under the bridge, you can’t build too high on that site, and it’s only about 20,000 square feet, plus you’re going to have spend a bunch of money on historic preservation of the warehouse. At best you’ll make enough money to get rid of 10 of the 1200 apartments.

    Also, the money the conservancy has made on the Tobacco Warehouse over the years has gone back into programming, like the Thursday night movie serives. Please remember that the park needs not only maintenance and operations money, but also money to pay for free programming.

  • ashton

    The plan for new condo buildings near Atlantic Avenue and the reuse plans for the Tobacco Warehouse are two entirely different things that should not be mixed up.
    No one is thinking of making big money at the TW no matter what. Revenue neutral is the hope. A permanent home for St Ann’s players and a summer venue for BAM among other things would be cultural, not financial, amenities. The roofless warehouse -roofless only because it was totally neglected by its government owners through the 1980’s and 90’s – could be put to better use if it contained a medium-sized theater/concert space. What’s the dire problem with that?

  • bklyn20

    Of course the TW cannot be a substitute for a 30-floor luxury condo — which also of course should not be in a park in the first place. The point is that any and all alternative sources of revenue for the park should, indeed must, be considered. Trimming the bloated park budget would also help!

    As for the Conservancy’s use of TW event revenues, again, I and many other peple are aware that most of the revenue was put into programming. Nonetheless, some accounting of the actual profits made at the Tobacco Warehouse should be made known, and some accounting of how it was spent should also be available. Yet again, there is no transparency whatsoever in the way funds are handled and in the way decisions are made. This is despite the fact that the park is now some sort of city/state hybrid, which should then be more obligated to share information with the public.

    The theatre idea is a no-go for many reasons — losing the historic character of the space being a principal objection. The TW situation absolutely has to do with the condos slated for the southern and northern ends of the park! Please read up a little on this, because any revenue that can be raised, coupled with a more realistic plan and budget, helps to stop the condo abomination that threatens our — and supposedly all of NYC’s — new park.

  • bkre

    On what basis do you describe the park’s operating budget as bloated? Are you an expert on park operations? Have you rigorously studied the budget? I doubt it. And when you complain about lack of transparency, is there more transparency from other parks? Do you know the programming budget for Central Park? I just find that often times the critics of BBP set up unrealistic criteria that no other park has to meet and then complain when they don’t meet it. I find that critics of BBP provide no context of what is normal and expected procedures in parks operartions. For example they complain about what a waste of land the “berms” are. But what around Central Park and Prospect Park and you’ll see that in large areas, those parks are separated from the street by large land forms that look suspiciously like berms to me…

  • fulton ferry res

    ashton: The initial cause for the collapsed roof of the TW was not neglect in the 80s and 90s; rather it was a fire, started by lightning, which gutted the building. See this NYT article:

  • bklyn20

    Bkre et al, I know most people won’t get to see this because it’s now on an “earlier post” page. As I have posted here an elsewhere before, I have been involved in parks advocacy on a formal, established level for over a decade, and longer that that in informal ways. Throughout this work, I have become familiar with MANY parks and what it costs to revive/reconstruct/build them.

    The park’s budget is certainly bloated. The cost of cleaning the WATER spaces between the piers is in itself enough to fund a
    small equatorial dictatorship. As for transparency — other parks have hearing ULURP, and are mandated to have a public process. Since there is no ULURP or the like on ESDC projects, and BBP was an ESDC project until quite recently, any hearings held had no legal force or authority.

    My comments are emphatically NOT the result of some reflexive impulse. They are knowledge-based. Comparisons with other parks have been made repeatedly by BBP critics — if you chose not to attend those hearings, then you woudn’t know about them,
    Please don’t throw stones from your glassy house — maybe build a berm around it first.