‘Blowback’ Continues To Hit BHA Over Tobacco Warehouse Lawsuit

Bo Rodgers Criticizes BHA, Allies as ‘Purists’

By Samuel Newhouse
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — Apparently, “blowback” doesn’t happen just to the CIA, but also to the BHA (Brooklyn Heights Association).

The BHA seems to be doing what it does best with a legal action over the Tobacco Warehouse, preventing untoward things from happening with public spaces, but on this issue they’re getting plenty of feedback, not all of it positive.

Heights resident Bo Rodgers wrote a letter to the BHA that he shared with the Heights Press expressing concern on behalf of himself and fellow residents. Contacted by the Eagle, he explained that he’s spoken to several neighbors who are upset with the lawsuit that is ostensibly aimed at preserving the historic brick warehouse. He and the neighbors don’t see anything wrong with allowing a theater company to lease the space.

“By God, we live in the Heights. We’re all for historical preservation; it’s practically in our DNA,” Rodgers said. “But there comes a time when you have to compromise, and I think this is a beautiful compromise.”

Rodgers was referring to the plan for St. Ann’s Warehouse theater company to lease the Tobacco Warehouse. They’ve stated they will place a roof over part of the warehouse, which the BHA opposes. Rodgers called the opposition a “purist” view. After all, one BHA member recounted seeing a Polish version of Macbeth staged there, presented by St. Ann’s. Every audience member had to wear noise-canceling Bose headphones because the lack of a roof let in the din from traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, the member said.

While St. Ann Warehouse is expected to build a roof over most of the structure, it will also preserve parts of the original warehouse with the $15 million it will raise to build an entertainment and cultural center in the Tobacco Warehouse.

A ‘Great Opportunity’

“[The St. Ann’s Warehouse plan] is a great opportunity,” Rodgers said. “That’s what I fear, that if they (the BHA) blow this opportunity, there won’t be an opportunity this good to come along again.”

The National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior found the removal of the warehouse from the planned 85-acre Brooklyn Bridge Park was proper, it was announced Monday.

“Purists are getting 75 percent of what they want, and on the other hand, a huge plus!” Rodgers said, referring to the theater. “I’m just looking at facts and where circumstances are today, and if you throw it all into the pot, this is a wonderful, wonderful use of that space.”

According to the letter of the law, the filing in federal and state court was done to block the “de-parking” of the warehouse, which the BHA had previously questioned in July 2010. The BHA, joined as plaintiffs with the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Fulton Ferry Landing Association, said they weren’t opposed to St. Ann’s, but to the way in which the warehouse was converted from a landmark in Brooklyn Bridge Park to a venue for a potential lessee.

While the suit indicated that events for the public regularly took place in the warehouse, a list of recent events released by the BHA was criticized for also listing things that took place on the grass outside.

The suit also questioned the actions of Regina Myer, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, and Carol Ash, former commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Many local people considered them allies of the BHA and integral to the park’s cause.

Rodgers wrote in his letter that he was “entirely sympathetic” with three key BHA members and park planners — Hank Gutman, David Offensend and Joanne Witty — who resigned in early February in protest over the lawsuit.

Those BHA members have declined to comment publicly on their resignations, but they have acknowledged that they weren’t told the lawsuit would be filed.

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