Federal Court Rules Park Service Violated Law by Allowing Transfer of Tobacco Warehouse, Empire Stores

Federal District Judge Eric Vitaliano issued a memorandum and order granting a preliminary injunction directing the National Park Service to protect the Tobacco Warehouse and the nearby Empire Stores, another Civil War era structure, from being transferred for private development. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, counsel for the plaintiffs–the Brooklyn Heights Association, the Fulton Ferry Landing Association, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the Preservation League of New York State, issued a press release characterizing the wording of the memorandum as “stinging”; noting that the Judge called the Park Service’s arguments a “house of cards” and holding that its action was in violation both of the governing federal statute and of the Service’s own regulations.

The release quotes BHA President Jane McGroarty:

We are gratified by Judge Vitaliano’s clear decision. The National Park Service and the State Parks Department acted illegally by removing the Tobacco Warehouse from the public domain. It belongs to the park, where it can be enjoyed by all.

Counsel for the City, a co-defendant with the Park Service, has said they now look forward to presenting their full case as the litigation progresses. We will keep you advised of developments.

Update: You can see a PDF of the memorandum and order here, thanks to Fulton Ferry Landing Association.

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    At last, a bright light for the public interest in the judicial arena. Hail to the Judge! And to the brilliant handling of the case by Gibson Dunn.

    Let’s hope that the determined malefactors don’t decide to appeal it to the Supreme Court; one can readily imagine how they’d be inclined to jump to support the big money interests that are playing this game.

  • Legal Beagle

    Do you have a copy of the opinion that you can post? It would be much appreciated.

  • David on Middagh

    Legal Beagle, from the last link in the post:

    “A complete copy of the decision is available by email upon request. Email linda@lcgcommunications.com. “

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

    I’ve requested a copy and will post it as soon as received.

  • stuart little

    i have posted before that i like the roofless warehouse as it is. How incredible that the dept of parks was willing to just hand over a portion of public park to a private party for their pet art project. particularly sleazy was the government’s claim that inclusion of the tobacco warehouse and empire stores in the park in the first place was an error, a typo, that they were correcting. The BHA did the right thing here.

  • bhts

    great. now they can sit there forever for kids to get hurt in and people to gawk at some bricks. there are many beautiful examples in this country where protected structures were restored and put to wonderful use. some people just cant deal with change.

  • Publius

    The “urban ruin” will now just become more ruinous. Thanks BHA and all ‘ends don’t justify the means hangers on’, for nothing.

  • Tobacco Whorehouse

    MartinLBrooklyn – I guess you have the right to be happy about the decision. But let’s get real, any attempt to paint Gibson Dunn (the firm who represented Bush in Bush v Gore) and the uber rich of the BHA as fighting against the “big money interests” is ridiculous. Celebrate your win, but don’t be a fool.

  • the Where

    Any self-respecting science fiction fan understands that the Walentas here are To Serve Man.

  • Eddy de Lectron


  • Livingston

    That does it. I’m boycotting the BHA house tour this year. Don’t want my $$ going to support this ridiculous and short-sighted lawsuit. And I usually organize a group of at least 6. Perhaps we’ll just go see a show at St. Ann’s Warehouse instead.

  • Matt

    So they rather it sit there and do nothing with the property? *sigh* people frustrate me.

  • David on Middagh

    All this time, I wasn’t sure if this lawsuit was a good idea or not. But after reading from what the judge had to say, I believe it was necessary. The mechanism of the transfer would have set a terrible precedent that could easily have come back to bite us here in Brooklyn, or anyone across the country, for that matter. What the judge slapped down was analogous to an abuse of eminent domain. And we know how outrageous some of the recent unchecked e.d. takings in this country have been.

    See the link in the original post (“characterizing”).

  • nabeguy

    DOM, you cut through to the heart of the matter. IMHO, this was never really about the TW, but the slippery slope that it might have established for future rullings.

  • Ifsandsor

    Praise the Lord. ,,,, good for the BHA

  • Knight

    I’ve been a BHA member for the past 7 years. According to TW that puts me in with the “uber rich.” I think I’ll buy myself a new tie at lunchtime!

  • T.K. Small

    Below is a link to an article in the New York Times.


  • fultonferryman

    The full decision is available as a pdf on the fulton ferry landing association blog: http://wp.me/prRWZ-dh

  • A Neighbor

    Hey, guys. You may or may not like the choice of St Ann’s. That isn’t the point. The problem is that the choice was not made by the public. It was made by pols and private interests ‘behind the scenes’. What the lawsuit asked is that the decision be made in a public process — as the federal regulations wisely require. (They also require that if parkland is taken away from the public that the public be compensated with parkland elsewhere.)

    It’s about this decision, yes. But it is about the next decision too. About making the pols understand that they have to listen to the public and not cave in to private interests the next time an opportunity arises. And when they do cave in, we should be grateful that there are institutions like the plaintiffs in this suit and other public interest groups that have the courage and perspective to stand up for the public.

  • gardenia

    this is great news.

  • ABC

    I agree. Great news.

  • Elmer Fudd
  • Elmer Fudd

    How deep is Mike Bloomberg in this mess?

  • nabeguy

    Elmer, Mr. B is an ex-smoker, He’s steering clear of the Tobacco Warehouse…unless he could make money off if it, like the draconian $1.30 he imposed on the NYC cigarette tax. Yes, I’m a smoker but I’m also a liberal democrat…that bit of legislation almost swayed me to the other aide.

  • Elmer Fudd

    “It seems the city will press on with an appeal ” said city lawyer Haley Stein. The city is committed to control the entire waterfront for Bloomberg’s vision of condos everywhere. This is the sort of thing that Bloomberg is running everywhere. Of course it happened.

  • Fritz

    Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher are among the worst guy law firms you can find. Put George Bush in office. They feature Eugene Scalia on the their web page. Their participation leans me to the other side.

  • Brooklyn Tea

    How about creating something useful out of the TW site and replace the roofless, useless pile of bricks with a new middle school for the nabe.

  • Big Dave

    The phat lady hasn’t sung, folks. The City vows to continue to spend our tax dollars fighting this. Isn’t there some rather huge irony there? Why don’t they just go back to the process and do it all above board? I’ll bet they could get the same outcome, though someone would have to give the public some land in exchange, as the Yankees had to do. I wonder whether the pending court battle would take about the same time as the above board process? Too bad someone hoodwinked somebody into trying take a shortcut around the regulations. Ain’t gonna be no winners anytime soon…

  • Hicks St Guy

    @ Brooklyn Tea, you’re channeling Robert Moses.