BHA, Other Groups Settle with City and State over Park Land

Last year, neighborhood and preservation organizations, including the Brooklyn Heights Association, prevailed in lawsuits in both federal and state courts in which they contested the actions of the National Park Service and the city and state governments to transfer the Tobacco Warehouse site from Brooklyn Bridge Park for use as a new home for St. Ann’s Warehouse Theater, as well as the Empire Stores building for possible commercial development. Following the court decisions, BHA and the other successful plaintiffs began negotiations with city and state officials to establish rules governing possible development of these sites. Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg announced that an agreement had been made under which, among other things, additional land will be added to Brooklyn Bridge Park should the Tobacco Warehouse and Empire Stores be made available for non-park use.

According to BHA President Jane McGroarty, the principal provisions of the agreement are:

* There will be 38,000 square feet of new parkland in DUMBO for Brooklyn Bridge Park. This is significant since the initial attempt to develop the Tobacco Warehouse did not include any replacement parkland. If we do not believe that the substitute parkland is properly valued, we will have the right to submit an independent valuation to NPS during the conversion process.

* The agreement states that the National Park Service should decide the conversion issues on the merits, without political considerations.

* The BBPC must hold regular briefings for the community every two weeks during the conversion process, and place any correspondence about the conversion on its website. This is another major victory for us, as it ensures that any conversion process will be transparent.

* BBPC will keep the Tobacco Warehouse open to the public until any development takes place. Any construction plan will protect the historic character of the Tobacco Warehouse. The community will have a role in managing the use of the public space in the Tobacco Warehouse after any construction project is completed.

Ms. McGroarty expressed gratitude to the city and state officials who “graciously came to the table to partner with us.” She thanked Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation President Regina Myer and BHA member Hank Gutman “for their very constructive roles during the negotiation process.” She said “State Senator Daniel Squadron and Senate Assembly Member Joan Millman were also extremely helpful to us in forging the right result.”

It is clear from Ms. McGroarty’s statement that the BHA will not oppose adaptive re-use of the Tobacco Warehouse site, including its use as a space for St. Ann’s Warehouse, provided that it is done within the rules established by the agreement.


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  • Karl Junkersfeld

    WOW. This makes me a happy man. Adaptive reuse of the Tobacco Warehouse that maintains the integrity of the structure is great news. I love St. Ann’s and hopefully they can go forward with the same proposal as last year. It was beautifully crafted and made excellent use of the space. (see attached video rendering). This is great news, indeed. Fantastic when intelligent and reasonable minds can reach a sensible solution.

  • Alex

    this is great news. i was worried the idiots would win.

  • Not a Walentas fan

    An open process is key, but it remains to be seen if Walentas will release his stranglehold on the public spaces of DUMBO. He already made a land grab moving his wife’s Carousel from his personal space to the park. He then figured he could pull the same thing with St Ann’s: kick them out of his space by shoving them in the park as well.

    One of the reasons why St. Ann’s justified moving to the tobacco warehouse was that they would prevent the warehouse from falling down. However, this is a scam as well: the state stopped renting out the warehouse spaces and stopped performing preventative maintenance. This gave them the justification to give the space away.

    As much as St. Ann’s is loved, it’s still a company. Why should it get preferential treatment over any other theater company or arts group in DUMBO? A true public use of the warehouse would allow it to be adapted as a theater showing any number of productions–not just a single company’s productions.

    In short–just because Walentas gives St. Ann’s a lot of money does not justify giving them public land.

    BHA was totally in the right in this matter.

  • Martin L

    Congratulations to the BHA for seeing this through.
    Protecting and respecting the irreplaceable historic character of the Warehouse is the key. There is little enough left of the once great economic engine that was the river side of Brooklyn. This fine relic belongs to our shared history. It is a symbol of the thousands of working people who built America.
    For those who love St. Anns, tho’ it’s hard to see what exactly is lovable about a presenting company, let them put their love into a search for appropriate space compatible with their contemporary theatrical ambitions.
    Meanwhile, let’s let private interests pay their way and do their thing.and keep public that which belongs to the public. .

  • Livingston

    Hopefully now we can move forward. Too bad this wasn’t resolved last year, sans lawyers.

    And NAWF, stop compaining about Walentas’ supposed nefarious plans to annex the park. There are a lot of people getting enjoyment out of that carousel (long lines of kids & adults). And St. Ann’s has always been the perfect neighbor, so why ruin a good thing?(As I remember, the planned theatre had additional small theatres and rehearsal spaces, not just one). Even the Public Theatre in Manhattan, another lovely old ruin that was rescued, is run by a non-profit organization — someone has to manage the thing and come up with the funds. BTW, when I mention to non-BHers about the difficulties and complaints surrounding the carousel and the Tobacco Warehouse, they wonder what kind of grouches live around here.

  • carol

    The last time I looked we had something called the rule of law in this country. In this case it means that you can’t take parkland owned by the public and make it private – no matter how exciting or worthy the cause – without following the rules and laws that protect our parkland. I am glad that that’s now being done by those in charge.
    @Livingston – the Astor Library was not public space when Joe Papp bought it. It was privately owned and about to be demolished by a developer when the newly formed Landmarks Preservation Commission stepped in and saved it.