Is the Eagle Hell-Bent on Trashing the BHA over Tobacco Warehouse?

The Brooklyn Heights Association’s involvement in a lawsuit over the re-designation of the Tobacco Warehouse, seems to have the folks at the Brooklyn Eagle in a tizzy. Dare we say that they’re taking sides?

Yes we will.

Earlier this week it amped up prominent resident Bo Rodgers’ letter to the Heights Press opposing the lawsuit to Sermon on the Mount status. Sounding like Johnny Mathis meets Robert Moses, Rodgers opines that the plan for St. Ann’s Warehouse to take over the TW is a “wonderful, wonderful use of that space.”

Meanwhile, Columnist Denis Holt attacks the essence of the lawsuit:

The BHA and others should note that the process for determining a new use for the warehouse — a cultural and community center — was very much a public process. And it should be remembered that there are even more public reviews before a lease can be granted to St. Ann’s Warehouse sometime this summer.

While Eagle columnist Henrik Krogius uses an otherwise thought-provoking and informative piece on preservation vs. innovation to sideswipe the BHA’s TW lawsuit:

The current furor over the lawsuits to block planned re-use of the Tobacco Warehouse, growing out of more than two decades of often-frustrated efforts by the BHA to control what happens in DUMBO, reflects the ill will the BHA can provoke in trying to push its influence beyond the Heights borders. However, the main focus of this commentary is on the approach taken toward development within the Heights itself.

After the landmarking of 1965 set in, the BHA was initially open to contemporary design solutions for what might yet be built within the district’s essentially built-up acreage, notably in its encouragement to Jehovah’s Witnesses to employ a modern architect for a new library and dormitory on the southeast corner of Columbia Heights and Pineapple Street. That striking example, by Ulrich Franzen, has not been matched in design interest by much else, other than the three “in-fill” houses of 1965-65 by Joseph and Mary Merz on Willow Place. The relatively few opportunities for new buildings within the Historic District in the past two decades have resulted at best in bland compromises between older forms and the possibilities offered by glass and steel. At worst we have gotten silly echoes of the 19th-century “carriage house” style.

Are the opponents of the Tobacco Warehouse scheme making their point clearly? Is their narrative of a shell-game being played with public land ringing true?

Are the proponents of the plan allowing themselves to get caught up in the “end justifying the means” while ignoring what some think is a shady deal?

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  • Reggie

    Everything Krogius and Holt write is an editorial, and often the latter doesn’t even have his facts straight.

  • william

    I agree with Reggie. The Eagle reporters will write anything their sponsors tell them to write. They won’t let the facts change the context of their editorials. They just rewrite history as needed. A disgusting excuse for a newspaper.

  • carol

    The Heights Press used to be great neighborhood paper. It’s sad that it has become a Fox News type of news outlet.

  • Heightsman

    I agree on one point. Dumbo is not Brooklyn Heights.


    Henrik Krogius’ thoughtful essay on the Heights, urban life style and historic preservation is well-informed, interesting, architecturally insightful and, for those of us concerned about human scale and quality of city life, definitely worth reading. However, when he opposes the BHA’s legal fight to put the Tobacco Warehouse back into the public park where it rightly belongs he goes off track. By broad-brushing the BHA as wanting to “control what happens in Dumbo” or being a “clinger to the past” or “fighting change” he seriously undermines his case.

    The BHA has in fact been an influential force for preserving the few remnants of Brooklyn’s great industrial past on the waterfront which we share. But while pressing the case for preserving what could be preserved, the BHA has also vigorously supported the creation of the new, great waterfront park which we all now are just beginning to appreciate and enjoy. This parallel vision—which reconciles a deep human concern for quality of life issues with meaningful city progress—sets the BHA apart from one-trick ponies who see only their little piece of the picture.

    Let’s get this straight. The people who took charge of the park and the Warehouse a couple of years ago, be they City or State officials or whomever, either did lie about its use in order to take it out of the public park or they didn’t. The case is a mighty strong one that they did. In fact, it seems to be in black and white according to the distinguished law firm representing the BHA which has made a very convincing case about it. Evidently, it will up to the court to decide.

    Again, this is not about the qualities of a virtuous theater company. But it is about the goals of a group of influentials who seem to share a narrow, intertwined, self-interested objective in private, commercial development. Their view of cultural life, as well-meaning as it may be, should not be allowed to trump the history of the warehouse and its past and future public role.

  • nabeguy

    For the win, MartinL. The most cogent argument against the TW plan and in support of the BHA resistance that I’ve read to date. Screw the Heights Press and the Brooklyn Eagle…the true vox populi can only be found on this blog.

  • Buddy Holly

    Blog0n MartinL

  • TS McGee

    Thanks MARTINL.

  • Big Dave

    Hear Hear!
    It has never been about how great St. Ann’s Warehouse is.
    It is about the process.
    The way it all went down just kind of smells like a cheap cigar …

  • ujh

    The Tobacco Warehouse and its future use were not included in any public planning and/or review process.

  • Tobacco Whorehouse

    It’s funny to see Homer call out the Brooklyn Eagle on their clear bias on this issue since Homer has shown just as much of a bias in the other direction. At least the Eagle is being straightforward about their bias and not pretending to be fair and balanced like Homer is.

    Anyway, I think Martin is a little off in his assessment. BHA is certainly framing this as a case where someone either lied or didn’t,and they think someone lied, but if you read the most recent letter from the National Park Service, that is not really the issue anymore. That letter argues pretty strongly that the State Parks department folks made a mistake when they included the Tobacco Warehouse in the map. Even the BHA will agree that the State Parks department made a mistake when they included the neighboring Empire Stores, so it’s not that big of a leap to believe that the mistake also included Tobacco Warehouse. The question really is, does the NPS have the right to correct what they believe to be a mistake through a simple adjustment, or do they have to go though a more public and lengthy conversion process? NPS seems to believe that they have the right to just fix a simple mistake. I’m with them. The courts will decide.

    And I know that the BHA supporters like to paint this as an issue where the pro-St Ann’s folks are arguing that the ends justify the means and the BHA folks are arguing for the rule of law, but let’s be honest here. The BHA has had a longstanding vendetta against David Walentas and just suffered a very public defeat on the Dock Street project. The desire to stick it to Walentas (a board member of St Ann’s) and further delay the Dock Street project (which needs St Ann’s to vacate their site in order to start construction) is a clear motivation for this lawsuit, not their concern about the integrity of the esoteric 6f process, which none of us even knew existed up until a few weeks ago. They are just as guilty of practicing an “ends justify the means” strategy as anyone else.

  • Homer Fink

    @TW – This a blog powered by opinion. Ours and yours. We don’t pretend to be anything else.

    The point of this post is to encourage a civil dialog from both sides of the issue. The Eagle has clearly made a strategic decision to come down very hard on one side.

    As for thinking the Eagle is an unbiased and neutral:

    Remember this:

  • nabeguy

    Whorehouse, I applaud your courage in choosing a post name that is in perfect synchronicity with your position.

  • Tobacco Whorehouse

    Homer – don’t misunderstand me. I agree with you that the Eagle is neither balanced nor neutral. That’s pretty obvious and undeniable. I just think that it’s a criticism that rings a little hollow from someone who is also not neutral on this issue and clearly holds the opposite position on this issue.

    @nabeguy – Come on. Rather than calling names, why not engage in an intelligent debate and point out something i’ve said that you disagree with. I think my post was pretty straightforward.

  • nabeguy

    TW, you chose the name. I just called attention to it. As to pointing out things that you say that I disagree with, I’d have to grow more fingers to accomplish that. I haven’t read the latest letter from the NPS that you refer to (please provide the link) but excuse me for being just a tad suspicious of a post-designation admission that they made a “mistake” in their original inclusion of the Tobacco Warehouse.

  • Tobacco Whorehouse

    The letter was printed in full on Gothamist a couple of days ago and then reprinted on this blog. The gothamist version is bit easier on the eyes (bigger font) so I’ll print the link to that one.

    The name was not meant as a commentary on my content. Just some late night wordplay. You were the one who assigned meaning to the name.

    Read the letter, get up to speed, then I’d be happy to hear your informed opinion.

    @Homer – I’ve been thinking about how you make a distinction between the journalistic standards that the Eagle should be sticking to and those you should be sticking to. I think it would be really interesting for your next poll if you asked your readers: From which news source do you expect to get more neutral and impartial reporting:

    1) The Eagle
    2) The Brooklyn Papers
    3) BHB

    It wouldn’t surprise me at all if you came out on top. You’d certainly beat out the Brooklyn Papers…

  • Homer Fink

    @TW – While I may poke Gersh at B’Paper from time to time, he is a top-notch EIC especially given the limited resources he has to work with on a daily basis. I may throw a high-elbow at them from time to time but it’s only because I hold them to a higher standard.

    As for a stance on the TW issue, the process has been opaque at best. The only way to make it transparent, in the opinion of some, is to have it hashed out in open court.

    I’ve been very clear to the BHA members I speak to regularly — the storytelling on their side needs to be clear and compelling about what’s wrong here and what needs to be done to fix it.

  • Tobacco Whorehouse

    @Homer – Well then, we disagree about the Brooklyn Paper too. I have seen too many incidents of blatant disregard for any journalistic standards there to give them any credit.

    It sounds like you think that BHA is right and they are just having a communication issue. You have to recognize that it’s possible (and likely) that they are just wrong. Look – it’s not like they had no issue with the tobacco warehouse and then someone pointed out the 6f issue and all of a sudden there was an uproar. They’ve been against the re-use of the Tobacco Warehouse in this manner for a while and they just think they’ve found a smoking gun. They are just using this issue to accomplish their larger goal of stopping the project.

    I think the process has actually been pretty open. There were 2 meetings a borough hall to solicit opinions. THe BHA was present at at least one of those.There was a public RFP. THe BHA was invited to submit a proposal for the TW that would meet their standards – they did not. There was a public meeting to present the proposals. Lots of opportunity for public feedback. Just because the folks in charge didn’t agree with your (or BHA’s) opinion, doesn’t mean that they didn’t hear it. As I said before, this case really depends on the issue of whether NPS can fix what they view as a clerical error with a simple letter or whether there needs to be a public “conversion” process to do so. NPS has reaffirmed that they think they can fix an error if it comes to their attention. As someone who deals with government alot, I agree that governmental agencies should be able to fix mistakes without literally making a federal case about it.

    I think some people are to ready to accuse well meaning public servants a conspiring to against the public good, when that is rarely the case in my experience.

  • Buggs Bunny

    The Brooklyn Paper used to be outstanding – then, sadly, they sold out to Rupert Murdock, the father of Faux News in 2009.