Tobacco Warehouse – St. Ann’s Kerfluffle Covered by New York Times

The New York Times reports on the fact that arts group St. Ann’s Warehouse will most likely be without a home next May, when work begins on Two Trees’ Dock Street DUMBO project. The group had planned on moving to a renovated Tobacco Warehouse but that was ruled out after the BHA and others won a court decision to keep the facility as-is.

NYT: “Our vision was to turn the Brooklyn waterfront into a cultural center by transforming the Tobacco Warehouse into both a theater and a public arts space,” said Susan Feldman, artistic director of St. Ann’s. “It leaves us maybe having to leave Dumbo. Perhaps even leaving Brooklyn. None of us want that, but the theater we do at St. Ann’s doesn’t easily fit into pre-existing spaces that we’ve seen, and we want to continue to do that work.”

Ms. Feldman founded Arts at St. Ann’s in 1979 at a historic church site in Brooklyn Heights, then opened its current home in an old spice-milling factory in 2001. The owner of the space is now developing it, with plans to construct an apartment complex and a middle school. Well known as a blunt-speaking, strong-willed artistic programmer, Ms. Feldman did not self-edit at first in discussing the opposition to St. Ann’s plans.
“When we won approval to move into the Tobacco Warehouse, you had a few people in Brooklyn who felt such defeat and anger that they are now fighting all-out to keep this space as a ruin, an urban ruin,” Ms. Feldman said. After a pause, she spoke a bit more diplomatically: “Well, I know everyone is fighting for what they believe in. I can respect that. We’re just heartbroken. And a little desperate.”

Jim Walden, a lawyer for the Brooklyn Heights Association and others fighting to keep the Tobacco Warehouse as is, said the neighborhood groups admired the work of St. Ann’s and supported keeping the theater in Dumbo. At the same time, the groups wanted to maintain the Tobacco Warehouse as the kind of site that has featured photo and art exhibitions, hip-hop and food festivals, and even a memorable “Macbeth,” presented by St. Ann’s in 2008 on a two-story, roofless set.

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  • Andrew Porter

    The NY Times glosses over the fact that the St. Ann’s program was kicked out of its original home in the church at Montague and Clinton due to infighting among the members of the church’s ruling body. The Walentas family gave the company its free home in DUMBO, where it has flourished ever since.

    The article also states that the Tobacco Warehouse is now an infrequent site for activities while failing to mention the cause: the long-term closure of the attached park for renovation and incorporation into the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

  • ABC

    my favorite part of the article:

    >>Regina Myer, president of Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, said that the Tobacco Warehouse is now used less frequently for recreation than other parts of the park, and that St. Ann’s proposal “was far and away the most exciting we received, and had so many opportunities for neighborhood groups and arts organizations to continue using the space.” <<

    they only received two proposals.

    (this is another issue. the rfp was so slanted to st ann's that few other organizations met the criteria they BBPC set. they might have well have said: Organizations need to have "St." and "Ann's" in their names to be considered)

  • Frank

    Mr. Porter, if the Tobacco Warehouse is closed for use because of the park closure, then why is the tent up again this summer. There’s nothing on the Conservancy’s schedule. So I guess it’s just another summer of lucrative wedding and private event rentals in that space? The years of tent use in that space give the lie to the Conservancy’s anti-St Ann’s position. They know that space is simply not an ‘outdoor’ space or they wouldn’t put a tent in there for the 4 months of the year when the park is most used. And just to get it out of the way, of course, I am a St Ann’s supporter and a local resident to boot. I’d much rather have St Ann’s in that space than weddings and private parties or the very lame programming that the Conservancy bothered to put up when the adjoining park was still in use. The lack of transparency on this issue isn’t only on the side of the City and it’s removal of the parcel from the park. The Conservancy has as much of a hidden agenda as supposedly the city does (ie. they think St Ann’s is a good fit, anyone surprised that’s what they think? Then what’s so hidden?)

  • Frank

    Lastly, does anyone really think this is the best thing that can be done with that space? It is not appealing at all as an outdoor space. There’s a beautiful park next door, who wants to spend time on that concrete slab when you could be on the grass? It’s just silly if you really look at the competing visions.

  • Frank
  • nabeguy

    I couldn’t help but notice that the article also made no direct reference to Two Tree’s and Walentas (“the owner of the space”) and the maneuvers they’ve made on behalf of SA in regards to the TW issue, while kicking them out of their current space so they can”develop” it, i.e. the controversial Dock Street proposal. I don’t know if the reporter is just ignorant of the entire back story, which would surprise me from a Times reporter, but the article had a “woe is me” flavor to it, with Feldman coming across as some poor matchstick girl just looking for a benefactor.

  • Livingston

    Way to go, BHA! (sarcasm)

    Chase out what could be a fanatastic cultural anchor for a competing (and dillusional) view of what will continue to be a highly underutilized space. St. Ann’s already has a great artistic reputation and is a long-standing neighbor, so it was no risk enhancement to the status quo.

    BTW, how much will it cost in maintenance to keep that shell of a building standing? It was not originally built as an open-air space and only came to this state because of decades of neglect. Who will foot the bill to prop up those 4 walls now?

  • Karl Junkersfeld

    A case when the philosophical outweighed the practical. Personally, I can’t imagine any other organization offering a better deal for this space. The renderings of what they proposed for this space were fantastic by any standard. Another concern, Mr. Livingston, is the Empire Stores, these structures are also falling into disrepair and without public/private partnership, will certainty crumble before our very eyes. I envisioned boutiques and food vendors inhabiting this space but without an economic incentive to do so, my dream will never come to fruition. A real shame.

  • Y

    But we got a lovely monstrosity of a carousel pavilion destroying the iconic view of the BB towards pier 17.

    I am sure it looks lovely from the higher floors of 1 main street, just not to the commoners on the ground.

  • Y

    I like karl’s idea of the food court. Something similar to Faneuil hall in Boston.

  • ABC

    One — I love St Ann’s. But the process was deeply flawed. Just because I like the winner, doesn’t mean I support what looked a lot like a “fix”.

    Two — I”m a little confused about the “homeless” issue. It was my understanding that St Ann’s hadn’t even raised the funds for this renovation. I might wrong on that but if they hadn’t, there was no way they’d be in there when their current lease expires. Hell, even if they had the money, I’m not sure there would have been a chance they’d be in by May.

    Three — I’m lost on this point: “the theater we do at St. Ann’s doesn’t easily fit into pre-existing spaces that we’ve seen, and we want to continue to do that work.” I’ve seen many St Ann’s productions, some predating this space. I’m not sure that what they do is so unique in staging that they can’t find a space. Certainly, every theater would love to build their own, but that’s a luxury few companies in NY have been able to afford. This complaint sounds to me to be somewhat out of touch.

  • T.K. Small

    Well said ABC.

  • A Neighbor

    You know, I think Saint Ann’s is great. But we have precious little park space in this part of Brooklyn — and 95% of Brooklynites will never attend a Saint Ann’s production. How can we deed over a big swath of the park to an arts group, no matter how wonderful? The debate strikes me as a bit elitist. And that, I think, is one of the reasons that the federal regs mandate a real public (as v. BBPC) process.

  • Matthew Parker


    Regarding the confusion on your second point, Susan Feldman had previously said at a public meeting that St. Ann’s Warehouse had begun to raise funds, but like any other group that would have won the RFP, it’s not possible to raise all the funds until the venue is secured. Who would donate thousands of dollars (or more) to an arts organization’s new home until they’ve secured the new home. It was highly likely that if St. Ann’s Warehouse had secured their lease, the organization has enough support that it would have been able to raise the funds necessary for their ambitious renovation plans.

    My own take is that it’s a shame. I find the Tobacco Warehouse “urban ruin” as quite an eyesore which will now likely remain so, and I’ve been disappointed with its use (or lack thereof) up until now. A long-term lease to St. Ann’s would have been a vast improvement, IMHO.


    Just to point out a few other examples of “urban ruins” which have proved worth having around:
    Rome: The Baths of Caracalla
    Athens: The Parthenon
    Israel: The aqueduct at Ceasarea,
    and on and on.
    While our humble and relatively young industrial site doesn’t start to compare with those ancient materpieces it is clearly unique and was considered special enough to have merited making the list of the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. “Eyesore,” my foot. Hey, you go with what you’ve got.
    And, once our own handsome ruin’s future is clear, it will surely house imaginative and public uses galore.

  • ABC

    Matthew, I understand and agree. I was just pointing out that since they haven’t begun raising money, the “homeless” issue falls a bit flat to me. They would have been homeless even if site had been secured. Actually, I assume they’d have a temporary home which makes me feel they’re not being 100% truthful.

    (I’m very familiar with the campaign for the Theater for a New Audience’s building. It’s taken years and year and years to raise that money — after a site and plan were in place)

    While I think we need to find a use for that space, I don’t think the Tobacco Warehouse is an eyesore. I really love the look of things that make you remember things were here before the era of West Elm and Starbucks.

  • Matthew Parker

    Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, and as the saying goes, there’s no accounting for taste. The Parthenon it ain’t.

  • Still here


    The Conservancy did not raise a proposal for the site – it does not have those kinds of resources, nor did it meet the RFP criteria. I believe it actually supported the St. Ann’s proposal as a secondary tenant to assist in providing programming for non-SA events – same way it deals with the rest of the park.