The National Park Service has endorsed the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation's plan to transfer the Civil War-era Brooklyn Tobacco Warehouse in DUMBO to performing arts presenter St. Ann's Warehouse, which currently produces some of the best theater in NYC in a big space across the street. You'll recall that in January, the Brooklyn Heights Association filed a lawsuit to stop the transfer, arguing that the National Park Service (NPS) had illegally removed the Tobacco Warehouse from the Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park’s map "so that it could be given to a private organization for free and for its sole and permanent use." After reviewing the records, the National Park Service (NPS) said yesterday that the plan could proceed.
According to the NPS decision (below), when the state applied for federal assistance in November 2001, the Tobacco Warehouse "was not suitable for public outdoor recreation use. The TW was deteriorated to the point that public access was prohibited by the State due to safety concerns; and although efforts subsequently were undertaken to stabilize the TW structure in order to halt further deterioration and to remove a safety hazard prior to the completion of the project, no plans were included in the Land and Water Conservation Fund application regarding the future disposition of the structures or their intended public outdoor recreation use as part of the then Empire Fulton Ferry State Park."
The NPS's position is that the Tobacco Warehouse was never really intended to be used for public recreation, and that the law permits "excluding a portion of a public park or recreation area" for purposes such as "indoor recreation structures, community or other municipal buildings, and private or commercial development." Regina Myer, President of Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, said in a statement, "The National Park Service’s decision confirming that use of the Tobacco Warehouse is not restricted to outdoor recreation will allow for the preservation of this historic warehouse and reuse as a vibrant cultural and community venue. A world-class performance space and open-air garden will greatly benefit Brooklyn Bridge Park and the surrounding communities."
But the Brooklyn Heights Association has vowed to fight on in court. "The announcement from the National Park Service in the Tobacco Warehouse case should shock anyone committed to good government," says Jane McGroarty, President of the BHA. "It’s clear that the National Park Service - an agency charged with protecting our public parkland - has reneged on this duty and has yielded to political pressure from City Hall. Our lawsuit continues, and we will litigate vigorously so that these ‘back room’ deals do not rob the public of what is rightfully theirs." This legal dispute is getting so dramatic we think St. Ann's should get the Tiger Lillies to make an artsy rock opera about it!