Preservation Issues

Tobacco Warehouse Update

Tobacco Warehouse - Brooklyn

July 25, 2012

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy (BBPC) noted at a July 25th meeting that a crucial piece of legislation needed to convert the landmarked Tobacco Warehouse and Empire Stores from park land to private use had been signed by Governor Cuomo. The legislation allows the City to begin the federally mandated conversion process.

Albany’s action followed Federal and State court rulings that found that the City had not followed the appropriate laws in an earlier attempt to convert the landmarks to private use. The Landmarks Conservancy was a co-plaintiff in the Federal case and will monitor the conversion process.

Last week’s meeting was required by the legal settlement of both cases. BBPC and the City also must offer regular updates throughout the process.

One requirement is that new parkland must be substituted for any parkland removed. In order for the National Park Service to approve the substitution they must make two findings: The new parcel must be of equal or greater market value than the exiting parcel; and it must have comparable recreational usefulness and location.

At the meeting, a City attorney said that appraisers using the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisition, determined the market value of the Tobacco Warehouse/Empire Stores parcel to be $4.24 million. The new parcel was appraised at $4.5 million. The new parcel consists of three small lots owned by various City agencies next to, and under the Manhattan Bridge. The parcels are surrounded by the existing park and the City estimates that it will cost $5 million to adapt the parcels to parkland. A public hearing on the subject of the land swap will be scheduled for December 2012 or January 2013.

The new parcels are considerably smaller than the parcel containing the Empire Stores and Tobacco Warehouse, and they are located partially under the Manhattan Bridge leading some community members to question whether it is a fair swap. The community has the right to undertake, at its own expense, its own appraisal of the properties.

A Federal Environmental Review is also required. The attorney presented a very ambitious schedule saying the review will result in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the State Historic Preservation Office, which is expected in October 2012. Environmental Review Hearings will be held in January/February 2013 and the process is envisioned to be complete by summer of 2013.

The BBPC also released a draft Request for Proposal (RFP) for the conversion of the Empire Stores. The RFP states the city’s goals which are to preserve and restore the buildings, to reactivate them by converting them to a mix of retail, commercial and office uses, to generate revenue to help support the Park, and to make the Empire Stores a destination for locals and visitors. The RFP contains a stipulation that all rehabilitation and restoration work will be in conformance with federal historic preservation standards. The final RFP will be released once the conversion process is complete.

Any project will be subject to Section 106 review and compliance under the Federal Historic Preservation Act. This is a public review of any effects a project will have on the historic property.

Read more about the history of this conversion.