Today, the Fulton Ferry Landing Association and our co-plaintiffs, the Brooklyn Heights Association, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the Preservation League of New York, have signed an agreement to provide for the expansion of Brooklyn Bridge Park, thereby settling our litigation with Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp (BBPC), New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corp, and St. Ann’s Warehouse.
As you may recall from earlier posts, both Federal and State Courts had ruled that the Tobacco Warehouse and the Empire Stores could not be developed for private uses without undergoing the legally necessary conversion process, which includes public input and the requirement that parkland of equal value would be added to the park. Today’s agreement secures nearly 40,000 square feet of new parkland for Brooklyn Bridge Park, provides for the preservation of these Civil War era structures which lie within our historic district, and ensures the process related protections and greater accountability we sought.
The agreement requires state legislation to ratify the conversion and National Park Service (NPS) approval. Should the legislation pass and the NPS approve the conversion of parkland to development land, it will permit the redevelopment and adaptive reuse of the Empire Stores and the Tobacco Warehouse. The Empire Stores, long included in plans for Brooklyn Bridge Park as an important revenue-generating component of the Park’s operation and maintenance budget, will be redeveloped as a mixed use commercial and retail development. The Park Corp has agreed to expedite all steps necessary to maintain and preserve the Empire Stores from damage; these steps are to be completed in consultation with historic preservation organizations.
In addition, the agreement defines the process through which BBPC officials can seek to obtain the legally required approvals for the reuse of the Tobacco Warehouse. This much loved structure will be made into a theater space, outdoor public garden, and a community room for use by organizations, schools and the general public. As most of you know, St. Ann’s Warehouse was conditionally designated as the developer of the Tobacco Warehouse, until the lawsuits put this on hold. BBPC has now agreed to establish an advisory committee to assist in the programming and design of the public spaces for the Tobacco Warehouse while the public regulatory process proceeds. The committee will include members of the four groups who litigated, as well as the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council (of which we are also a participant), and other community organizations.
The Park Corp has also committed to reopening the Tobacco Warehouse to public 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 at that time. We have long been strong supporters for public access to the Tobacco Warehouse, and the agreement will allow for it to remain open to the public until such time (and if) the conversion process is completed. While we regret that if the conversion occurs only a portion of the Tobacco Warehouse will remain open to the public, we are also supporters of St. Ann’s and their performances. Should the conversion be finalized in the prescribed process for which we litigated, we wish them well and look forward to taking our seats in the audience in the years to come.
This settlement was largely a result of the favorable verdicts we obtained in Federal and State court, reaffirming the Tobacco Warehouse and Empire Stores’ status as designated parkland and specifying the full and open process by which these properties could be developed. These verdicts will have a significant impact in enhancing protection for public parkland across not only New York State, but the entire country.
We believe the results have validated and vindicated our participation in these lawsuits. We not only prevailed in court but also succeeded in negotiating a settlement which expands Brooklyn Bridge Park, underscores the importance of public process and participation, and provides a way forward for all of us to work together. We also want to offer thanks to State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblywoman Joan Millman for their efforts in bringing this settlement to a successful conclusion, and the tireless efforts of our pro-bono team at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.