The latest casualty of the whole Tobacco Warehouse fiasco—in which a federal judge struck down a deal between the National Park Service and St. Ann’s Warehouse for the latter to take over and build inside the historic DUMBO structure—appears to be the Off Broadway presenter itself. St. Ann’s current Water Street space must be vacated by next May to make way for a controversial condo and middle school project, and without the Tobacco Warehouse to look forward to, the Times reported Friday that the theater’s future is extremely uncertain.
St. Ann’s project to convert the sporadically used (sometimes by St. Ann’s) roofless shell of the 1870s customs inspection building included a community space, outdoor sculpture park, and large covered, column-less performance space similar to their current set-up in the space they’ve occupied across the street since 2001. That all got put on pretty permanent hold in April when a judge sided with local community groups and deemed the process through which the National Park Service and the city had planned to transfer the historic, public building into private hands without any kind of public review process and by resorting to shady map-fudging tactics.
St. Ann’s director Susan Feldman tells the Times:
When we won approval to move into the Tobacco Warehouse, you had a few people in Brooklyn who felt such defeat and anger that they are now fighting all-out to keep this space as a ruin, an urban ruin.
It leaves us maybe having to leave Dumbo. Perhaps even leaving Brooklyn. None of us want that, but the theater we do at St. Ann’s doesn’t easily fit into pre-existing spaces that we’ve seen, and we want to continue to do that work.
Meanwhile Jim Walden, the lawyer for the community groups in the case, offers a broader view, and positions this dispute as an attempt to establish better processes and precedents for future attempts to remove public structures from parks:
We don’t think it’s a good idea for governments to just give away national landmarks to organizations that they like, if those are good organizations, because eventually there will be a person in charge who is giving landmarks to an organization that you don’t like. What you need is the same standardized process that has integrity and is followed in all decisions like this.
So while the Tobacco Warehouse and adjacent Empire Stores will remain as they are for at least the next few years, St. Ann’s is suddenly in need of a new home. We hear there are some new theaters being built in the BAM Cultural District…