U.S. Justice Department Orders Park Service to Review Tobacco Warehouse De-Parking

The U.S. Department of Justice announced that the National Park Service is reviewing its decision to remove the Tobacco Warehouse from federally protected park land. DOJ has also taken the unusual action of issuing a letter to the City directing it to treat the Tobacco Warehouse site as if it were still under federal protection, pending completion of the Park Service’s review.

This was evidently done in response to the filing of two lawsuits by the Brooklyn Heights Association and two other plaintiffs, one in federal court against the Park Service and the other in state court against the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, seeking to prevent the removal of the Tobacco Warehouse from park land and its use by St. Ann’s Warehouse as its performance space.

Because of DOJ’s action, a hearing in the federal lawsuit scheduled for this morning, in which plaintiffs were to argue for a temporary restraining order, was cancelled.

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  • http://inklake.typepad.com Peter Kaufman

    I predict a semi-rapid about-face by the Brooklyn Bridge Parks folks.


    This is great news, a real breakthrough for all park-caring people but also for those of us city dwellers who are not ready to give control of our public lands over to the whims of big time developers. It seems that, finally, no matter how much money and behind-the-scenes influence is being thrown around, we are still a government of laws.
    This decision comes a couple of days after the Eagle printed a frenzied attack on the BHA. The attack was based on the preposterous notion that the BHA was in this because of traffic problems. Now we have fresh air on the issue. Let’s hope the Justice Dept. sees to it that the Warehouse is quickly restored to its rightful public, protected status.

  • fultonferryman

    Martin, I wouldn’t pay attention to anything that Dennis Holt writes in the Brooklyn Eagle. He is a one-trick pony who insists that every position that BHA and FFLA take on an issue is due to traffic concerns.

  • Karl Junkersfeld

    I think that Martin was referring to an article by Henrik Krogius, Editor of the Brooklyn Heights Press & Cobble Hill News. He also writes for the Eagle but I read the referenced article in the BH Press. Mr. Krogius is about as credible in discussing this topic as anyone that I know.

    I’m disappointed that Martin identified it as “frenzied”. It was an extremely logical and enlightening article IMHO.

    Can we all agree that the issue isn’t the Warehouse itself, given its marginal historical significance, but really the dislike of Walentas and his plans for the current St. Ann’s location. Anyone looking at his buildings in DUMBO have to appreciate how he has restored those buildings in keeping with their original architecture. Surely no one is worried that he will ruin the integrity of the remaining Warehouse structure.

    Martin is one of my favorite people in the Heights so I’ll just attach Henrik’s article and let you decide if it is “frenzied”.


  • Karl Junkersfeld

    Just looked up Dennis Holt and found the article that Martin was actually referring to. My error, Mea Culpa.

    Martin couldn’t be more correct, what is Dennis Holt talking about?

    Reasonable people can disagree about this issue but attributing the BHA decision to go to court on traffic concerns with regards to this small venue is weird to say the least.

    Yes Martin, it was “frenzied”.

    Here is the article:


  • nabeguy

    Karl, we’re both aware of how our paths diverge on the subject of Walentas, so I won’t get into that. And being old enough to remember when the TW actually had a roof (and was a pretty non-descript building even with it) I can buy into the argument that it has limited opportunities in its current state. My problem is with the larger issue of transferring public lands to private use. I’m not saying that the former outperforms the latter when it comes to utilizing and maximizing a space to its fullest potential. If anything, the reverse probably holds true. But giving away public property can be a slippery slope, especially given the difficulties in ever trying to regain it back from the private sector. My preference is for the system that Mexico employs…private land-lease limited to 30 years, after which the property reverts to public use. Personally, I think that one generation of ownership should be enough for anyone to reap the financial benefits of a property…and give them enough to supply for their next generation.

  • nabeguy

    Why is my comment still awaiting moderation?

  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales

    nabeguy: I just took it out of moderation. It seems that longer comments often go to moderation because the “artificial intelligence” that scans them is more likely to find words or phrases (apart from “dick”, I don’t know what these are) that make it send them there. Sorry for the delay.

    BTW, you might want to check out NBC’s blog, which claims that Truman Capote just reduced the asking price for his house on Willow Street: http://tiny.cc/g6die

    Neat trick, eh?

  • nabeguy

    Thanks for the clarification Claude. It was probably my reference to Walentas (aka: dick) that put it there. And thanks for the NBC link…pretty funny, although I’m sure that, if he could, Capote would rise from his grave to hold out for the highest offer.

  • Karl Junkersfeld


    Glad you omitted a tired discussion of the relative merits/demerits of Walentas’s contribution to the Brooklyn waterfront. We both have heard these arguments rehashed a thousand times. You are very wise my friend.

    Not sure I understand you argument about “giving away public property”?

    Henrik, better than I, mentioned this in his article I attached earlier:

    As to the charge that the new use would “privatize” the property, it is important to recognize not only that the terms call for a lease rather than ownership, and that the occupying cultural organization will offer free public events in addition to its admission-charging performances. More than 6,000 square feet will remain as a roofless garden. For that matter, the plaintiffs exaggerate its heretofore public use and fail to acknowledge that many events there were not free.

    I haven’t read the contract myself but I’ll assume than Henrik is a reliable source.

  • nabeguy

    Point well take Karl. And I’ll second your faith in Henrik.

  • Joralemon Guy

    The St. Ann’s Warehouse lease would be for a total of 50 years — 30 plus two 10-year renewal options. Taking it to 2063. It would be a rent-free lease, and free, as well, from any payment “up-front” for the site. Construction and maintenance costs would be entirely St. Ann’s responsibility. St. Ann’s would be required to make space available at reasonable times and at reasonable frequency for other cultural groups, at free or discounted rates. Probably “booking” of such space would be sub-contracted to the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, who performed that function from 2004 to 2008, using its own fund-raising plus rental income from private affairs to cover the costs of free public performances or activities. Historically St. Ann’s has only presented productions in the fall-winter-spring season (and the open-air Polish “MacBeth” in the existing historic ruin of the Tobacco Warehouse itself).

  • bklyn20

    The larger point for me, and for many other people, is that the park must make some money from the Tobacco Warehouses — and that money should go back into the park. I have been to many great events at St Ann’s, especially when they were in the church in the past, and consider it to be a great arts institution,. BUT almost all of their events have a VERY high ticket price for a public park, and yes, I know they did the free “Fela!” concert in BBP last summer, and that the Brookltyn Youth Chorus has/is using them as a venue as well.

    St Ann’s will not create money that reverts directly back into the park, their ticket prices are almost invariably high, and they don’t have a variety of types of entertainment Why have a multi-programmed space that other groups as well as St. Ann’s can use, and that can also be used for the occasional (lucrative ) gala/wedding? Art exhibitions? PS 8 graduation ceremonies?

    Not to mention of course that St Ann’s got the space under inappropriate circumstances — no news to me for this park.

  • bklyn20

    Too early for typing!! Make that “Why NOT have a multi-programmed space…”

  • David Fuller

    Fifty years of free land in NYC is a rare boon to any arts organization. Getting it from public land without setting forth specific ways that the public will benefit freely seems wrong. Perhaps the St. Ann’s Warehouse RFP lists the ways they plan to keep the space, or part of it, available. Does anyone know specifics they can share here?

  • David Fuller

    Modification, again? But my comment is cogent and hardly inflamatory…

  • fultonferryman

    The entire lawsuit is available at http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/01/18/ParkNY.pdf
    where, among other things, the free events in the Tobacco Warehouse in recent years are listed.

  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales

    David: I have no idea why your comments are going into “moderation”. You’re right; they are cogent and non-inflammatory. I’ll try to be more alert and check the “comments pending” box more often.

  • Karl Junkersfeld


    You mentioned the FELA! concert at St. Ann’s during the summer, well I just happen to have a short video I made of the concert. It is worth a look IMHO. Very funny scene of the girls doing solo dances with the heavy girl rocking the house down.


  • bkre

    David Fuller – You bring up a good point and do it in a respectful non hysterical way, unlike some others (cough, cough, bklyn20, cough, cough). So I will answer your question respectfully. A copy of the Tobacco Warehouse RFP was available online at BBP’s website for a long time. I don’t see it there anymore, but there is a presentation that they gave in November which summarizes the whole process, the goals of the RFP and the responses they received. You can see it here: http://www.brooklynbridgeparknyc.org/media/download/459dfd03-5dfa-4866-9356-f05b9e58e42f

    As you can see, there are a number of ways in which the public will benefit from this project which are explicitly stated:
    1) The triangle (which represents about a 1/3 of the entire footprint) will remain an open uncovered space and will house a garden, seating areas and possibly a concession
    2) A second smaller theater space will be built. St Ann’s will make this space available to community groups and local arts groups at cost
    3) St Ann’s will make the smaller space available for the public for rent much in the way the tented area of the tobacco warehouse used to be available for wedding and bar mitzvah’s etc
    4) St Ann’s has proposed providing free programming open to the public in the Park on an annual basis – such as the Fela event that they did last summer. For more details take a look at page 30 of that presentation. Lots of good information on that slide.

    These are just the highlights. As we go forward I think the benefits to the public from this deal will become even more pronounced. And this doesn’t even mention the fact that St Ann’s will take over responsibility for maintenance and upkeep of this historic structure.

  • bklyn20

    Ignoring that insulting statement (cough, cough), after my non-hysterical as usual comment (cough, cough.)

  • fultonferryman

    Wow. An actual news article on this subject in the Eagle, as opposed to the prior opinion pieces: http://www.brooklyneagle.com/categories/category.php?category_id=31&id=41067

    My favorite line: “Walden also refuted claims by some commentators that this lawsuit is part of a scheme to keep traffic levels down in the area.” Some commentators = Dennis Holt.

  • bkre

    Please – that’s not an actual news article by any stretch of the imagination. All this “reporter” did was interview the lawyer for the plaintiffs and the reprint everything he said as if it were fact. No effort is made to verify any of the allegations and no effort was made to reach out to the defendants and get their side. This is worse than the other articles – at least they acknowledged that they were opinion pieces. This one is an editorial masquerading as a news article.

  • john henry

    Trial by jury will decide the facts. Everyone claims innocence nowdays, even if they perjure themselves in doing it. The fact that the action is being taken is newsworthy in itself. Let the Games begin.

  • David Fuller

    bkre – I appreciate your responses. After looking at the RFP presentation by St. Ann’s Warehouse, specifically p. 30, I can see that other groups are certainly contemplated. I will posit, however, that a majority of the “Programming Partners” are the organizations which St. Ann’s Warehouse presents during its mainstage season. Also, some of the organizations appear to me to be incorrectly categorized – for instance, how can anyone call The Wooster Group, a renowned national and international theater company, to be “emerging?” Still, St. Ann’s Warehouse seems to have its “community heart” in a good place – I just wish p. 30 was more accurate…