While the attempted turnover of the Tobacco Warehouse for use as a new home for St. Ann’s Warehouse Theater was effectively stopped by a federal court’s decision in July (and St. Ann’s has found a new, if temporary, home in DUMBO), a New York State court ruled in a parallel action brought by the same plaintiffs as the federal one–the Brooklyn Heights Association, the Fulton Ferry Landing Association, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the Preservation League of New York State–that the actions of both the city and state governments in transferring the historic structure were a “nullity because [they] violated New York’s public trust doctrine.”
Judy Stanton, Executive Director of the BHA, said:
We knew that our fight to save the Tobacco Warehouse for the public was necessary and that the defense of the public trust in this case was the right thing for the Brooklyn Heights Association to do. We feel doubly rewarded by Justice Vaughan’s decision to uphold it.
BHA President Jane McGroarty said:
We hope everyone will now agree that the Tobacco Warehouse is exactly where it belongs and that a precedent has been set that sends a strong message: public spaces and are for all of the public to enjoy and attempts to take away any of it will be met with action by community groups and the courts.
Joan Zimmerman, President of the Fulton Ferry Landing Association, said:
Historically, it’s fallen to us, the community, to step forward to protect the Tobacco Warehouse from being snatched from the public. This victory for public land – not once, but twice affirmed by the court, is incredibly gratifying and will stand as a precedent for years to come.
The decision was also praised by State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblywoman Joan Millman.
Update: Haley Stein, Esq., Senior Counsel in the City’s Law Department, who served as lead counsel for the City in the case, had this to say:
This decision is a major setback toward improving the park and prevents the City and Brooklyn Bridge Park from moving forward with a project that would provide funding for the long-term preservation of the Tobacco Warehouse. The State transferred Tobacco Warehouse to Brooklyn Bridge Park without parkland restrictions, and we continue to believe that the community would greatly benefit from its re-use as a cultural and community center. The decision also hinders plans to rehabilitate and re-use Empire Stores — a series of enclosed warehouse buildings that are in need of preservation and are not usable by the public. The redevelopment of Empire Stores as a commercial and retail space is vital to providing revenue for the operation and maintenance of the park. We disagree with the decision and are considering our legal options.