St. Ann’s Warehouse: Thanks For Your Support, ‘No Winners’ In This Saga

In an email sent to their mailing list, St. Ann’s Warehouse Artistic Director Susan Feldman thanked everyone for their support during the Tobacco Warehouse saga, indicated that they would be leaving DUMBO but have several options elsewhere, and that this is all due to the ‘callousness’ of the neighborhood and preservation organizations such as the Brooklyn Heights Association.

Feldman noted: “Despite what the plaintiffs in the case, led by the Brooklyn Heights Association and New York Landmarks Conservancy, might have us believe, there are no winners with this legal decision.  In fact, everybody loses – New York City, the Public, St. Ann’s, and the fragile buildings with their uncertain future. We are grateful that the judge’s ruling did not preclude an alternative process for converting the structures, and we believe conversion will eventually prevail (despite the sad fact that a second lawsuit filed by the BHA still threatens restoration and adaptive reuse of the two historic structures).”

Feldman concluded the update on a hopeful note, expressing excitement for St Ann’s Warehouse 2011-2012 season, which will start with a “new Karen O psycho-opera, an assault on the tragic joys of youth, that will be directed by Adam Rapp”.

Full text of the update:

On behalf of the St. Ann’s Warehouse Board and Staff, I’m writing to thank everyone, worldwide, for the tremendous outpouring of love and support you continue to send our way regarding the Tobacco Warehouse saga. I’ve been traveling, as I often do in the summer, scouting new work to bring home to New York for this and future seasons. And, everywhere I go, I run into American and international colleagues who have been following our tale of the two warehouses — from elation at our designation to receive the Tobacco Warehouse last November to disappointment and concern for our cultural community over the federal court ruling last Tuesday. The judge’s ruling effectively prevents St. Ann’s and Brooklyn Bridge Park from carrying out our plan to transform the Tobacco Warehouse into a world class cultural destination on the Brooklyn Waterfront.

Many tears have been shed, particularly over the callousness of the neighborhood and preservation organizations that filed the suit and then turned a blind eye to the collateral damage it has caused — to St. Ann’s Warehouse; to our DUMBO neighborhood, which we will have to leave; to the Park and to the future preservation of the Tobacco Warehouse and Empire Stores.

We are honored to have been designated to restore and adapt the Tobacco Warehouse as a Waterfront cultural and community center in Brooklyn Bridge Park. We continue to believe the Tobacco Warehouse would make an ideal home for the local, national and international communities it was designed to serve.  And we are proud that Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Bloomberg Administration remain committed to St. Ann’s proposed vision for the Tobacco Warehouse, which, ironically, has recently received a Design Award from  the New York State chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

Despite what the plaintiffs in the case, led by the Brooklyn Heights Association and New York Landmarks Conservancy, might have us believe, there are no winners with this legal decision.  In fact, everybody loses – New York City, the Public, St. Ann’s, and the fragile buildings with their uncertain future. We are grateful that the judge’s ruling did not preclude an alternative process for converting the structures, and we believe conversion will eventually prevail (despite the sad fact that a second lawsuit filed by the BHA still threatens restoration and adaptive reuse of the two historic structures).

However, for St. Ann’s, the ruling creates continuing uncertainty, which is an enemy to the project.  Knowing we must leave our current space a year from now, we cannot risk a lengthy, drawn out conversion process in which the plaintiffs will continue the battle.  Given their lack of support, we must devote our attention now to securing a future home elsewhere. We are actively looking at alternative spaces and have identified options we are eagerly pursuing.

In the meantime, we are looking forward to a great season in our current DUMBO home, beginning this October through May 2012. It kicks off with an exciting collaboration with St. Ann’s and The Creators Project presenting the premiere of a new Karen O psycho-opera, an assault on the tragic joys of youth, that will be directed by Adam Rapp.

We look forward to getting away from litigation and back to where we most belong: producing and presenting cutting-edge new works at the world’s intersection of theater and rock and roll.

With much love and many thanks,

Susan Feldman
Artistic Director, St. Ann’s Warehouse

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  • Matt O.

    I’m not sure whose interests the BHA claims to be serving, but they don’t seem to be mine. The park is great, but a lot of the other stuff is off.
    They oppose a great idea from St Anne’s (even if it was supported by the hated Walentas, and a skirting of federal law, it was still a great idea), they do nothing for the chaos on Poplar St. (a school addition, a derelict old precinct house, a garden destroyed to build condos), and Montague street has to be the lamest commercial corridor in the city. What are they preserving on Montague st? 1983? I think I have to start going to meetings now.

  • stuart little

    LOL! such a prima dona.
    there was a lawsuit, your side lost, its not about you or the callousness of the opposing side, it was about law. leave the histrionics for the stage.

  • Scott M

    I too was very disheartened by the BHA action regarding St. Ann’s. It was part of the scripted presentation at the annual meeting in February and was justified mostly on procedural grounds — that the process for getting neighborhood input was flawed. But there was no discussion opened on the topic at the meting. In fact, having been a member of BHA for nearly 2 decades, I can’t recall a single time I have ever been asked to vote on anything except a pre-ordained slate of board members. The vote would be worthy of a Soviet satellite, or of any authoritarian regime that engineers the result in advance. And now this beloved artistic institution is left homeless and the future development of that property is left to — who knows what. It is a shame and a travesty of “neighborhood democracy”.

  • Osito

    The BHA doesn’t serve my interests, that’s for sure. The neighborhood loses a world-class cultural organization, and the buildings continue to rot.

    But the BHA doesn’t care, because they’re reflexive NIMBYs. They need new blood and new ideas. What a shame.

  • Livingston

    Completely agree that there are no winners. This is sad news on so many levels.

    BTW, in case you missed Jane McG’s quote in the WSJ yesterday:
    “Frankly I think there are a lot of people who think that the Tobacco Warehouse should remain without a roof and as a public space,” said Jane McGroarty, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association. “That is the essence of a park.”

    It’s a pity that someone with such limited vision has unfettered access to lawyers.

  • CT

    Well I am going to break with the whiners here and say that I am still happy to see the law (a very good law, might I add) upheld. The Walentas family shouldn’t get to skirt the law and claim public parkland for themselves just because they give large campaign donations to Bloomberg et al. They had many opportunities to go through the proper conversion process but refused to do so. Thus, St. Ann’s should really be putting the blame squarely on the Walentas’ shady maneuverings rather than on the BHA.

  • Osito

    CT, St. Anns had approval from a bevy of agencies, from the feds, the state and the city. There was no reason to believe that there would be any problem with the transaction.

    All you need is a well-funded lawsuit, and an activist judge, and sometimes these things happen. Back to Square 1.

    The issue now is the future. The feds/state/city will again push to rehabilitate the property for the arts (under the new guidelines) and I assume the BHA will again sue all parties. We’ll see what happens.

  • RL

    While I am a big fan of St. Ann’s and wish them much success, this land should be for the people… all the people, and not just for arts/theater types like myself.

    These are landmark structures that everyone should be able to enjoy. It should remain open and passive space, if only for our eyes to stretch, and not closed up in the dark of some theater.

    St. Ann’s has screwed over others before, so don’t cry too much for them. Just ask the church that previously housed them. Now is the time for St. Ann’s to take the high road and improve community relations by just moving on.

    There’s a ton of sympathy for St. Ann’s right now. I’m sure that they’ll land on their feet and probably in an even better spot than this one. (Bloomberg usually finds a way to throw a bone to such org’s.) And as this letter shows, no matter how bitter, there’s much marketing hay to be made of this situation. Arts lemonade.

  • cm

    I agree with CT and RL! The St. Ann’s warehouse deal was sneaky at best. I applaud the BHA. That space should be for many groups and uses. And good for Matt O. for deeming to finally attend a meeting.

  • dog lover

    I also agree CT, RL and CM. Though I don’t always agree with the BHA, thank goodness they are there.

  • RLJ

    Successful trolls (Brooklyn Heights Association, Jim Walden, and Eric Vitaliano) are successful. Because don’t be fooled. They all just trolled everyone in Brooklyn. Hard.

    1) If you think there’s an actual legal issue here — there’s not.

    Every decision-maker in the neighborhood approved this idea. Except BHA. Oh wait – the Warehouse isn’t even IN the Heights! Its out of their neighborhood! But they had to drag it into court. And yes, in the letter of the law, the development was improper. Stodgy melodramatic old fool Vitaliano summons up all his self-love in his absurdly overwritten decision — take a look at his quote, “That promise must be kept.” What an idiot.

    2) Every person who is on the BHA’s side in this sees this as ‘good neighborhood people’ vs. ‘evil Walentases.

    Yes, Walentas cooked up this idea; he gave St. Ann’s space rent-free to make DUMBO more attractive; he’s forcing them to leave to build new condos. For some reason, that doesn’t offend or frighten me. DUMBO is only a wonderful place to live and be b/c of David Walentas. He’s not some cancer that spreads and spreads as BHAers seem to think. The Tobacco Warehouse theater would have been perfect on Water Street.

    3) ‘save our park’ — What park??? Crumbling brick buildings are not a park! If they’re open for private events, or locked up, or even if kids could play in the ruins like its the Soviet Union — the Warehouse is not a freaking park!! That space is completely useless as it stands.

    Sorry I’m writing so much, but the BHA really blew it on this one. DUMBO and Heights people, and theatergoers everywhere, lose. Walentas is still rich and still building his condos.

  • someone

    Totally agree with RLJ on #3.

    I am still surprised that there really hasnt been any objection to the Pavillon in the park.

  • hju

    someone, many have objected to the placement of Mrs. Walentas’s carousel at the Cove and to the design of the pavilion, which is to be illuminated at night with moving horses a la Robert Lepage. The Purchase Building under the Brooklyn Bridge, with its Art Deco entrance and Moderne architecture was demolished to, ostensibly, open up the view of the Manhattan Bridge from Old Fulton Street only to give way to the carousel and its pavilion right smack in the middle of this view.

  • nabeguy

    RLJ, I call bs on your 2nd statement. It’s unfair to lump every opponent of the proposal in with the BHA. The overall issues in this case were far from local and could have had far-reaching consequences to other “public” lands. Opposing a dangerous precedent doesn’t make someone a BHA lackey.

  • resident

    Nabeguy, I call bs on your dangerous precedent comment. The decision was correct legally as mandated by the law (including court precedent). However, a decision not to pursue the case by BHA would not have set any form of precedent, just as someone driving 100 mph and not getting pulled over doesn’t set a precedent that the next guy won’t get busted. If this lawsuit never happens, and the federal government tries to give away yellowstone to create a thousand walmarts, the law would still stop them.

  • Andrew Porter

    Funny thing, when the Church of St. Ann’s kicked the arts program out—where do you think the name comes from?—they didn’t blame the BHA and Brooklyn Heights for their troubles.

    To those who think the end justifies the means, all I can say is that 1) I’m so happy that you state your opinions while hiding behind anonymity and pseudonyms; and 2) the laws of this country are there to protect the weak and the strong alike. We remain a country of the rule of law, not the rule of people willing to bend the law for their own benefit.

  • Princess

    Here, here, Mr. Porter!!! (and people really do call me princess)

  • carol

    I’m waiting for Two Trees to fulfill the promise several years ago they made at PS 8 in an open meeting about the Dock Street development project and middle school. When asked what would happen to St. Ann’s Warehouse when the Dock Street project was built, Jed Walentas assured those present that Two Trees was committed to keeping St. Ann’s in Dumbo and that they owned many buildings and would find a home for St. Ann’s.

  • Publius
  • carol

    I fear you are right. Promises..promises.

  • Arch Stanton

    That’s because the Walentas are greedy conniving liars, they cooked up the whole Tobacco Warehouse scam so they wouldn’t have to waste any of their “precious buildings” for St Ann’s. Perfect solution for them to put it on public parkland. They are so greedy they couldn’t even spare space for one of their toys (carrousel) somehow they managed to dump it in the middle of the park. Any one who backs them is a pig.

  • David Fuller

    It was a nice design, that proposed theater with public use component. What saddens me [somewhat – this isn’t life or death] is that the leadership at St. Ann’s Warehouse believed the party or parties involved that the park property was being acquired legally. Question: is there not a proper process to be used to acquire the tobacco warehouse? Sure it would take notices, meetings, public comments, reports, evaluations, etc., but it could be done.

  • Cranberry Beret

    @David – bingo. If anyone’s a dupe in this process, it’s st ann’s for thinking they could trust their patron walentas to look out for them. (after all, he’s the landlord who’s kicking them out.)

  • KJ

    Agreed.. There must have been someway they could have found a way to legally move this forward. Unless someone tells the Met to leave Central Park and the Brooklyn Museum to get out of Prospect Park.

  • Dave

    Wasn’t the whole reason for transferring the Fulton Ferry park to the Brooklyn Bridge Park to make a nice front yard for shiny new developments. To generate new revenue for the city. Isn’t that what Bloomberg said to Walentas: “I’ve got this thing and it’s f—ing golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for f—in’ nothing.”