Much Ado About Something – 3 BHA Members Quit Over Tobacco Warehouse Suit

The Brookly Eagle reports that 3 prominent members of the Brooklyn Heights Association have resigned in a dispute over the organization’s lawsuit to prevent the takeover and conversion of the Tobacco Warehouse by arts group St. Ann’s Warehouse.

The trio of dissenters – former president David Offensend and former governors Hank Gutman and Joanne Witty. All three are currently on the board of directors of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation.

Brooklyn Eagle: Jane McGroarty, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said in a statement, “The BHA regrets the resignation of its former board members, who represented Brooklyn Heights for many years during the planning process for Brooklyn Bridge Park. We also wish to be very clear that we do not believe that the members of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation board knew of the state’s [alleged] misrepresentations.” The statement stressed the BHA’s opposition to “the removal from the public domain of a beautiful place in Brooklyn Bridge Park.” It added, “There is no glossing over that fact.”

Share this Story:

, ,

  • nabeguy

    Given how cold it is outside, it’s good to have a post I can warm my hands up on.

    “All three are currently on the board of directors of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation”

    Good luck folks. You’ve been COI’d

  • Publius

    Well clutch my pearls! Controversy in blue blood land.

  • David on Middagh

    Nabeguy, I had to Google “COI” (tho’ I should have guessed it).

    My favorite options were:
    – Coefficient of Inbreeding
    – Cause of Insanity
    – Canadian Outcomes Institute

  • Karl Junkersfeld

    If I was a member of the BHA, I would want my dues money refunded. To litigate against the Brooklyn Bridge Park over a cultural Institution, like St. Ann’s, moving into the Tobacco Warehouse is very unfortunate. Unlike the BHA, I trust Regina Myers to know what is best for the park and the cultural programs it offers New Yorkers. Any objective person would have to agree that she has done a pretty decent job to this point. If St. Ann’s is forced to move elsewhere out of the Brooklyn Heights vicinity, it would be deplorable. I enjoy their programming immensely.

    Just because the BHA has a vendetta against Walentas, with particular emphasis on the Dock Street decision, they should not be penalizing the BBP and by extension its visitors who would have enjoyed having St. Ann’s as a partner of the park. The renderings of the projected space were very impressive and retained its historic character and even enhanced it.

    What is next, suing over the placement of the carousal by his wife. Stay tuned.

  • Jazz

    What’s next is Hamas will be running the middle school at Dock Street. Same M.O. as Myers so why not?

  • fultonferryman

    Karl, I couldn’t disagree with you more.

  • Carlo Trigiani

    Well said Mr. Junkersfeld. The BHA’s lawsuit not only slows down the relocation of St Ann’s, but it further delays the construction of the much needed Dock Street Middle School. A two-for-one shot for the old BHA.

    I wish Judy and the gang would work with the community to solve problems instead of causing them. Spend more time on residential parking permits and making our streets safer!

    St. Ann’s is a world class theatre company that has contributed greatly to our community. They deserve support and cooperation from the community, especially the BHA.

  • David Fuller

    Since my post on another aspect of the Warehouse war was the last in that string [hence, probably, no one read it] I will post again here, with a few changes.

    For me the issue is free real estate to an arts organization that has limited public appeal. Yes, Karl, they generally present outstanding world-class theatrical events. But, if they are getting our community real estate for free [which they will get for 30 years with an option for 20 more, I believe], they ought to be crystal clear as to how they will serve the entire community, not just the cultural elite who can afford their ticket prices

    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…

    Perhaps St. Ann’s Warehouse is developing a concrete community plan. I hope so.

  • Livingston

    Um, isn’t the Tobacco Warehouse in DUMBO? I kind of consider that outside the BH neighborhood and therefore out of the purview of the Brooklyn Heights Association. Especially as it doesn’t seem to have any direct impact here.

  • fultonferryman

    Um, Livingston – the TW is in the Fulton Ferry Historic District, as are the Empire Stores. And as noted in the lawsuit and online, the BHA has an extensive history with the area now known as Empire Fulton Ferry Park. In the 1960s, Mayor Lindsay wanted to move the Fort Greene Meat Market here, but due to community protest, the land was purchased from Con Edison and became the state park.

  • bkre

    Fuller – I think it’s the art that is emerging, not the organization. I think “emerging art” is just a synonym for “avant garde” which is a term they probably wanted to avoid so as not to sound elitist.

    Also the fact that St Ann’s already partners with a ton of other arts organizations should be a plus, not a minus. Your whole point is that the plan should include some way to be inclusive of as many arts groups as possible, right? So isn’t the fact that St Ann’s already has a rich track record of doing just that preciseley what you should be looking for? In addition, p30 of that presentation (which is not meant to be a limiting list, just some examples) includes other organizations which St Ann’s has never worked with before as well as a whole category of pefrmances which would be free and open to the public, either in the warehouse or elsewhere in the park.

    I’m with Karl on this one. I have told people outside the neighborhood about the St Ann’s plan and their jaw literally drops to the ground when I tell them that there’s a controversy and that people in the neighborhood are against it. Every other neighborhood in the City or country would be falling all over themselves to get a world class cultural institution to invest $15 million to rehab a historic building in such a sensitive way to produce such a wonderful gem for the community.

  • ujh

    If you had read the news reports thoroughly, you would know that it was three organizations, namely, the Brooklyn Heights Association plus the Fulton Ferry Landing Association and the New York Landmarks Conservancy, which filed the lawsuits.


    Avant garde, off-off broadway theater is not the issue.
    Pure and simple, the issue is the falsification of facts by the State in order to get the Federal government to allow its removal from a nationally authorized park.
    That is why the Department of Justice has stopped the process cold.
    It is not nice to try to fool the Federal government. Especially in secret.
    There are countless housing opportunities for off-beat theater. St. Ann’s, if its audience is loyal and its work outstanding, will surely find a home nearby in Brooklyn.

  • David Fuller

    Gee, bkre, you can call me David. :)
    Who is debating the standing of St. Ann’s Warehouse as a great institution? I am just looking for specifics beyond what they are already doing to justify a move out of private sector real estate to public property. BTW, the Wooster Group is listed under “Emerging Cultural” which I took to mean Emerging Cultural Organization. Without speaking to the RFP author, I guess a debate about the meaning there is moot.

  • Reggie

    Part (how much I cannot say) of the lawsuit is about process. Several of the people above seem to be making the classic argument, “the ends justify the means.” As we all learn by a certain age, that is not always persuasive.

  • Bob Stone

    The suit, then, has already had a salutary effect. Ah, if only these three had pulled out in 2004, before they helped engineer the hijacking of the community’s plan for Brooklyn Bridge Park.

    Any others?

  • A Neighbor

    This is an important issue. BBP is a public park — in an area that has almost no park space for a large and growing residential population. Karl may like the programing at St. Ann’s Warehouse and someone else may not, but that’s not the issue. Why should scarce park resources be taken away from public use? The community has fought for this park for years.

    I remember something Mayor Lindsay said many years ago when there was a proposal to enlarge the police station on a cross-town road in Central Park: If all the good projects that have been proposed for Central Park had been built, there would be no park today.

  • Mr. T

    I pity the fool that fibs to the Feds.

  • Eve

    I think there’s a mistake in this post. Here’s the list of BBP’s Board:

    The only name of the three people I see is David Offensend, who is listed as Vice Chair Emiritus… or am I missing something?

  • nabeguy

    Karl/Carlo, (coincidence?) I’ve signed my contract to purchase so this is an issue that won’t impact my future in the neighborhood…but, oh, brother, as a native BH’er, I can only say, be careful what you wish for. I do believe that both of you have a true appreciation of the historical legacy of the Heights and wish to preserve it. And,as some have argued, the TW issue is in Walentas-land, so why is the BH even involved? Because they realize that these issues, while not directly in the Heights, are on our doorstep and that if they don’t fight the developers chipping away at the outer edges, then there is a very likely possibility that their influence can spread to the nabe, a threat that is especially salient given the pull-out of the Witnesses.

  • Claude Scales

    Eve: your link is to the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, which is a privately funded organization devoted to the promotion, conservation and improvement of the Park. Messrs Gutman and Offensend, and Ms Witty all serve on the board of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, the organization empowered and funded by the City to manage the design, construction, and maintenance of the Park. See here:

  • SnoozingDog

    Two points: First, nabeguy has illustrated his point–that the developers’ encroachment on adjoining neighborhoos is a threat–by stating that “the TW issue is in Walentas-land.” As noted by fultonferryman, the Tobacco Warehouse is in the Fulton Ferry Historic District as are the Empire Stores (and rest of the parkland of which they are a part). They are not in DUMBO, a/k/a Walentas-land. Fulton Ferry Historic District was well-established long before the emergence of DUMBO. Now the distinctive character and historical features of Fulton Ferry Historic District are being threatened by the incursion of a developer’s apparent ability to call the shots in what gets done in and around DUMBO, including the park (view-of-the-Brooklyn-Bridge-blocking-carousel anyone?). This would certainly give preservationists cause to wonder how far the incursion will go and the motivation to take action.

    Second, it would be tempting not to challenge the St. Ann’s RFP process, given how nice it might be were it to come to fruition. But to ignore the means by which it apparently was done and not challenge those means would be a mistake and allow a bad precedent to take hold. Our communities comprise more individuals than the members of one family who seem to think (seemingly along with those responsible for making decisions about what will go in the TW area of the park) that its members alone are the community.

  • Andrew Porter

    Once upon a time, there was a very nice park on Joralemon Street, but NYC decided it knew better, and it destroyed the park and erected the Brooklyn Municipal Building. Nowadays, when governments decide they know better, fortunately, there are alert citizens and organizations which use the Proper Channels to defend against moves to expropriate properties. Thank goodness.

  • JimWalden

    The suit is not about St. Anne’s. State Parks and the City could have used the correct process to remove TW from federal protection and proceed with development. That process requires full disclosure, a fair discussion of alternatives, substitute park land, and public input. Instead of using the correct process, they filed a secret application with false information. They even kept BBPDC in the dark, which no one seems to deny. If you allow this to happen in this way on the theory that “we like St. Anne’s, so what’s the harm?,” you allow it to happen to any Landmark for any purpose. When government holds parkland in a public trust, the word “trust” should have meaning. Perhaps we can all take the long view, let the process play out, and quit taking the local press’ invitation to stage an episode of the Family Feud.

  • Buddy Holly

    In more recent history, there used to be a city park on Adams Street that is now a Marriot Hotel, and there used to be a city owned public parking lot on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Court Street that is now a Walentas owned apartment house (how did that happen!).

  • SnoozingDog

    JimWalden–Well put! Thank you.

  • Reggie

    In more recent history, there used to be a city park on Adams Street [that was really just the roof of an underground parking garage] that is now a Marriot Hotel [which replaced the garage with one in the hotel], and there used to be a city owned public parking lot on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Court Street that is now a Walentas owned apartment house [that similarly replaced the garage that was torn down with one in the new building]…

    Q. …(how did that happen!).

    A. Both went through ULURP and the lost amenities (except for the park, which I have already characterized as an after-thought) was replaced in-kind in the new development.

  • Stretch Armstrong

    This reminds me of the Manhattanville saga from which Columbia emerged on top. The issue in denying Columbia’s claim of eminent domain was not that the claim was unjustified, but that it was done badly by the State. The State botched the filing, and the court sent them to the woodshed for penance. They came back, did things right, and prevailed. I’m agnostic on the merits of Columbia’s plan, though it’s worth noting that the opposition wasn’t exactly principled, it was totally self-interested nonsense by a wealthy guy from New Jersey who owned a self-storage facility.

    So, the government (this time, the City and State Parks) screwed up. They should and will do the petition again, and having learned their lesson, will do it right, and moot this litigation. Good. Seriously, does BHA (we are in DUMBO, as well as FFL, not BH) want St. Ann’s to pack up and move to Red Hook? And for the Tobacco Warehouse to sit empty for another several years (see: Empire Stores)? Just because the Walentas group suckered the City and bullied its way to his Dock Street win doesn’t mean that BHA and FFLA should punish St. Anns and the larger community in retaliation by deporting a treasured arts institution. This really is cutting off your nose to spite your face.