Tobacco Warehouse, Now

Review & Comment
Henrik Krogius, Editor
Brooklyn Heights Press & Cobble Hill News

From the perspective of the Brooklyn Heights Association the judge’s ruling barring St. Ann’s Warehouse from the Tobacco Warehouse was a great victory. In a statement to members, association president Jane McGroarty stressed that the warehouse now “may not be privately developed or in any way altered except under strict guidelines.” From the point of view of preserving and maintaining the historic ruin, however, the ruling may not be so beneficial.

Maintaining this roofless structure in the absence of a regular tenant, or of any regularly scheduled use, will place an extra burden on Brooklyn Bridge Park. Where St. Ann’s Warehouse would have had a clear interest in, and responsibility for, its upkeep, the park will now have to spend out of its general maintenance funds to attend to the prevention of any further deterioration, without a guaranteed or regular source of income from future Tobacco Warehouse uses to help defray the cost. The danger is that the Tobacco Warehouse will become an orphan.

The Heights Association’s executive director, Judy Stanton, was quoted as saying, “Let’s hope there could be ice skating there in the very near future – maybe this winter.” That hopeful expression overlooks certain problems. Ice skating there is not simply a matter of someone turning a hose on the warehouse floor when the weather gets cold and letting it freeze over. In our warming winters the preservation of the ice in a safely skatable form requires a system for keeping it frozen and smooth. We’re not dealing with some iced-over pond of olden days. The skating will carry a cost and will mean granting a concession and involve fees for the recreational use. The skating won’t be free. It will also mean the need to assure that icing does not endanger the vulnerable structure.

In short, the decision is not a solution but an opening of the door to future problems, others of which Dennis Holt discusses elsewhere on this page.

Schools – and Evasion

First it was vouchers, now it’s charter schools. Either way it’s an evasion of the challenge to really do something for public education in the United States. Interestingly, as Sunday’s New York Times reported, opposition to charter schools has now spread to some affluent suburbs, where even the better public schools are being drained of funding for the sake of more specialized courses in charter schools.

Nicholas Kristof, also in Sunday’s Times, commented on the financial cuts and staff reductions now afflicting his old public high school in Oregon. He deplored the spending on nation-building abroad while cutting back on schools and teachers’ pay here at home. We have given up on trying to make our schools better overall, choosing instead to find ways that let a minority of students enjoy the fruits of education. We’ll yet pay for our obsession with the deficit and with avoiding any and all tax increases.

The Gray Lady

After being hard on the New York Times last week over the rather soft new Sunday Review section it came up with to make up for Frank Rich’s departure, I saw the Andrew Rossi documentary, Page One: Inside The New York Times, last week. It was a forceful reminder that, however much we may carp at this or that perceived failing of the Times, it remains a source of information vital to the functioning of our democracy.

Blogs and Twitter may be where a growing number of people get their information, but, as Page One noted, most of the time even they are dependent on the original reporting of the Times and a few other oldtime newsgathering sources.

The documentary remarked that the “Times effect” – the shaping of broadcast and other news reporting around the country by what has appeared in the Times – continues into the present media free-for-all. Page One is far from a complete report on the Times – it focuses largely on its media-side role, with the scruffy but trenchant reporter David Carr as the lead commentator – but it deserves a greater viewership than it has any chance to get. The Heights Cinema, where I saw it, has gone on to other programming, though at the start of this week it was still showing at the Angelika on Houston Street.

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