Lawsuits Attempt To Stop Tobacco Warehouse Change

Group Plans To Convert It Into Entertainment Venue

By Henrik Krogius
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — The Brooklyn Heights Association, joined by the Fulton Ferry Association and the New York Landmarks Conservancy, on Tuesday filed two lawsuits aimed at preventing the conversion of the now roofless Tobacco Warehouse into an entertainment venue.

The walls of the 19th century structure stand just northeast of the Brooklyn Bridge. Back in November St. Ann’s Warehouse was designated as the primary tenant of what would be a partly roofed, partly open Tobacco Warehouse.

Of the two suits, one seeks a preliminary injunction in federal court to stop the transfer of the warehouse to a private organization. The second, in state court, asks for a court order “to prevent officials from providing false and misleading information to the National Park Service.”

The plaintiffs claim city and state officials “launched a secret plan to remove the Tobacco Warehouse from the park’s map so that it could be given to a private organization for free and for its sole permanent use.” A statement from the city’s Law Department said, “Brooklyn Bridge Park is moving forward with development of the Tobacco Warehouse as a cultural and community facility. We can not comment on pending litigation.”

“The purpose of having protected parkland is to guard it for open access by everyone, regardless of background or ability to pay. After five years of programming with many events by a diverse collection of groups with varied missions, including art, cultural, musical and recreational, the government has secretly turned over the keys to a monopoly of one,” said Jane McGroarty, president of the Heights Association. She said the lawsuit was the only remaining option to save the Tobacco Warehouse after her plea to the National Park Service (in July 2010) went unanswered.

“The New York Landmarks Conservancy is concerned that proper procedures were not followed when the Tobacco Warehouse was removed from the park. When the Conservancy was involved in saving the Warehouse years ago, the State invested in the building and treated it as a feature of the park,” said Peg Breen, president of the Landmarks Conservancy.

In a more measured vein, State Sen. Daniel Squadron commented, “I’ve long said that transparency and community input are crucial as we work together to help Brooklyn Bridge Park reach its full potential. The Tobacco Warehouse is a big part of that potential, and a unique community amenity — the process for determining its use must adhere to these principles. If true, the issues being raised today are disturbing and call the process into further question; they must be dealt with swiftly.”

“In light of this new information, I believe it should remain as is — a stabilized architectural ruin programmed as a multi-purpose space accommodating a variety of activities,” said Assemblymember Joan Millman.

‘Unelected Bureaucrats’

Supporting the St. Ann’s Warehouse plan for the building, Borough President Marty Markowitz said in November, “I’m thrilled that its plan for this historic space not only helps ensure Brooklyn Bridge Park is home to vibrant cultural programming in the days ahead, but that it also contains elements designed to honor the current open-air feeling of the structure.”

The conversion still needs review by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and a public hearing.

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