Preservation Issues

Important Update: Brooklyn Bridge Park Settlement

Tobacco Warehouse

Empire Stores

May 21, 2012

Settlement ratifies Federal and State Court victories regarding Brooklyn Bridge Park -City to follow all relevant laws

The Conservancy is pleased that in response to successful litigation regarding the Tobacco Warehouse, there is an omnibus settlement agreement requiring the City to adhere to Federal and State laws designed to protect parkland and historic sites. The settlement, announced May 21, ratifies two strong decisions in Federal and State Court which found that legal requirements had not been followed, and which halted earlier plans to convert the landmarked Tobacco Warehouse to private use. The Conservancy was a co-plaintiff in the Federal suit along with the Brooklyn Heights Association, Fulton Ferry Landing Association and Preservation League of New York State.

The settlement ends a process that started 18 months ago when the Conservancy, alarmed that the relevant laws were not being followed, entered into the lawsuit. While media focus has centered on whether St. Ann’s Warehouse theater company would be able to build within the Tobacco Warehouse, that was not the issue that motivated the Conservancy Our focus was ensuring that the correct legal process was followed. If the two landmarked warehouses were allowed to be removed from the park and redeveloped without following the law and the required public process, historic sites across the country could be threatened. The court decisions, and this settlement, are an important victory.

The agreement will allow the City to begin the legal process of transferring the former Fulton Ferry State Park to the Brooklyn Bridge Park and the process for converting the Tobacco Warehouse and Empire Stores to private redevelopment.

The Conservancy helped save the Tobacco Warehouse from demolition in 1999 when State engineers felt it might collapse in a storm. At that time, the State Parks Commissioner allowed the Conservancy to hire an engineer, who determined that the walls were sound and who developed a stabilization plan which the State then followed. The structure is still in good shape. In the years since, the Tobacco Warehouse has become popular with the public and has been used for a variety of events and performances by arts groups. The court decisions required that it be re-opened to the public and the settlement affirmed this.

The Conservancy’s other concern was the deteriorated state of the Empire Stores. The settlement allows plans to restore and redevelop this pre-Civil War building to move forward as quickly as possible. The settlement will allow us to inspect work at both landmark sites.

The Federal “conversion” process that allows land or buildings to be removed from a park requires that comparable land be added. As a part of the settlement, the City has identified two parcels, under, and just north of, the Manhattan Bridge, as substitute parkland. Without the lawsuit, the addition of this parkland might not have been achieved. The Conservancy intends to monitor developments to ensure that all aspects of the settlement are followed.

Press Release

May 21, 2012
Contact: Julie Wood | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | 212-788-2958


State Senator Squadron and Assemblywoman Millman Reach Agreement to Ensure Community Process, Will Introduce State Legislation

Community Groups to Participate in Planning Process and Join Public Use Advisory Committee

Agreement Guarantees Public Process and Adds Parkland to Replace Any Developed Parcels; Establishes Review Process to Preserve and Enable Re-Use of Empire Stores and Tobacco Warehouse and Design Additional Parkland

An agreement reached today will provide for the expansion of Brooklyn Bridge Park and for the preservation of historic structures at the Park, substituting new parkland for any lost if regulatory approvals are secured to re-use the structures for other cultural or commercial purposes. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation, Brooklyn Heights Association, Fulton Ferry Landing Association, New York Landmarks Conservancy, Preservation League of New York State, and St. Ann’s Warehouse, a non-profit Brooklyn-based performing arts organization, have settled a disagreement over the process for developing part of the park, which houses two historically significant structures. The Agreement – which resulted from litigation brought by the Brooklyn Heights Association, the Fulton Ferry Landing Association, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the Preservation League of New York State — will require state legislation and National Park Service approval to effectuate any development and re-use of the structures.

Subsequent to this agreement, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblywoman Joan Millman secured an additional community planning process and expanded community participation.

The agreement will allow for the preservation and adaptive re-use of the historic Empire Stores as a mixed-use retail and commercial development that will provide vital revenue to help fund Brooklyn Bridge Park’s operation and maintenance costs. These improvements will restore the Empire Stores, which is currently in deteriorated condition and closed to the public. The agreement also sets the stage for the preservation of the Tobacco Warehouse and starts a process to secure regulatory approval for re-use of that structure as a cultural and community-use venue. Redevelopment of the Tobacco Warehouse would create a theater space, an outdoor public garden, and a community room for use by schools, community organizations and the public. St. Ann’s Warehouse has been conditionally designated as the lessee of the Tobacco Warehouse.

While the public regulatory process agreed to in today’s settlement proceeds, Brooklyn Bridge Park will establish a special advisory committee as part of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council to assist in programming the Tobacco Warehouse’s public spaces. Brooklyn Bridge Park has also committed to reopen the Tobacco Warehouse to programming as early as this summer, once the state legislation is signed into law, and the special advisory committee will have an active role in programming decisions during that time.

In addition to preserving and reusing the Empire Stores and Tobacco Warehouse, 38,000 square feet of new parkland immediately below the Manhattan Bridge and owned by the City of New York will be added to Brooklyn Bridge Park. This new parkland is contiguous to the Park and will be seamlessly integrated into the Park. The new parkland property will be improved to provide active and passive recreation, new public facilities, and additional scenic views. The City will relocate its current uses from those properties in order to turn them over to Brooklyn Bridge Park. If the National Park Service requires additional parkland, the City will provide it.

As part of Senator Squadron and Assemblywoman Millman’s agreement with the City, Brooklyn Bridge Park will also establish a special advisory committee as part of the Community Advisory Council to advise on planning, design, and construction of the replacement parkland. Squadron and Millman also ensured the participation of DUMBO, Community Board 2, and Ingersoll Houses on both committees.

The agreement settles litigation brought in federal and state court to protect parkland under federal and state law. The litigation addressed, among other things, whether re-use of the Tobacco Warehouse and Empire Stores required formal, federal regulatory approval, through a “conversion” process, and whether substitute parkland was required if the structures were re-used. In today’s settlement, the plaintiffs and City and State agencies agreed on a process that follows all regulatory requirements and moves the park planning forward.

“Today’s agreement means that, thanks to the hard work and cooperation of all involved, these historic treasures will be preserved and put to use for the community and park’s benefit,” said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

“Brooklyn Bridge Park has quickly become woven into the fabric of the neighborhood and this expansion will make it an even more invaluable community resource.”

“We recognize and appreciate the important contributions to the Park made by the Brooklyn Heights Association, the Fulton Ferry Landing Association, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the Preservation League of New York,” said Brooklyn Bridge Park Board Chairman Robert K. Steel. “This agreement is an important step forward in Brooklyn Bridge Park’s continued development as a unified, vibrant waterfront park, and facilitates the creation of new public parkland. These organizations have encouraged greater protection for parkland and their actions have directly resulted in the expansion of Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is a fantastic development for the community.”

“This agreement solidifies our ongoing partnership with the community to build Brooklyn Bridge Park for generations to come,” said Regina Myer, President of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation. “I look forward to working to incorporate new parkland in the Park, developing a vibrant community and theatre space in consultation with the community, and ensuring that the successful adaptive re-use of Empires Stores and Tobacco Warehouse benefits park visitors.”

“Today is another sign that public process matters, and that when the community stands up it’s possible to make real progress on difficult issues,” said Senator Daniel Squadron. “Moving forward we will now have a collaborative process in place and new publicly accessible parkland.”

“I am very proud to have played an important role in negotiating a settlement regarding Tobacco Warehouse and Empire Stores,” said Assembly Member Millman. “Not only were we able to save these historic structures but also we added 38,000 square feet of new parkland for Brooklyn Bridge Park.”

“I am delighted that the parties were able to resolve this in a way that expands Brooklyn Bridge Park, enhances community participation, preserves two historic structures, and respects the legal procedures that exist to protect parkland,” said Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY). “Today’s announcement is tremendous news for the community and for Brooklyn Bridge Park.”

“From the expansion of Brooklyn Bridge Park and preservation of the Empire Stores and Tobacco Warehouse to community input in the planning process and revenue for the Park’s upkeep, this agreement is a win-win for everybody,” said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. “Brooklyn Bridge Park is already a crown jewel in our City’s park system, and kudos to Senator Squadron, Assemblywoman Millman, Deputy Mayor and Park Board Chair Robert Steel, President Regina Myer and the community organizations involved with reaching this agreement for helping to preserve the past and look to the future—ensuring that our spectacular ‘Eden on the East River’ will be around for generations to come.”

“The Empire Stores and Tobacco Warehouse are gems on the Brooklyn waterfront and I am grateful to the Brooklyn Heights Association, the Fulton Ferry Landing Association, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the Preservation League of New York for fighting to ensure that Brooklyn Bridge Park continues to thrive,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “By preserving these historic structures and expanding Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York City and our federal partners are demonstrating a long-term commitment to improving the waterfront experience for all Brooklynites.”

“We are grateful to the City and State for joining hands with us,” said Jane McGroarty, President of the Brooklyn Heights Association. “We reached agreement on substitute parkland, a full public process for development decisions, and community involvement in programming, which were the fundamental principles behind the lawsuit. We look forward to working together to build a vibrant park.”

“At the end of the day, everyone came together and agreed on the importance of process. All of the state and federal legal protections for parks and historic sites will be respected,” said Peg Breen, President of the New York Landmarks Conservancy. “All appropriate public process will be followed.”

“The expansion of the park is a great victory for everyone,” said Joan Zimmerman, President of the Fulton Ferry Landing Association. “We are glad that the settlement agreement today solidifies public process and ensures that, if any re-use of the Tobacco Warehouse or Empire Stores is approved, replacement parkland is a ‘must.’”

“This resolution serves not only to protect key parkland and historic structures on New York’s waterfront,” noted Daniel Mackay, Director of Public Policy for the Preservation League of New York State, “but also ensures that decisions to remove park protections from land for development purposes are made in the fullness of a public process.”

“We are heartened by this agreement and hope that our dream for a new home at the Tobacco Warehouse will be realized,” said Joseph Steinberg, Chairman of the St. Ann’s Warehouse Board of Directors.

Additional Contacts:

Brooklyn Heights Association,
the Fulton Ferry Landing Association,
the New York Landmarks Conservancy,
the Preservation League of New York State: Jim Walden, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, 212-351-2300
Sen. Squadron: Amy Spitalnick, 212-298-5565