Encore: Latest plan to turn Tobacco Warehouse into theater revealed

The Brooklyn Paper
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Drama is returning to Water Street.

St. Ann’s Warehouse is once again trying to convert the historic Tobacco Warehouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park into a playhouse— nearly two years after its original attempt was booed off stage by the U.S. District Court.

But planners, who must gain city and state approval first, say the latest incarnation of the proposal to turn the roofless open space into a state-of-the-art theater should get a standing ovation.

“This design for the Tobacco Warehouse opens up so many possibilities for people to enjoy the building and the park all year long — as artists, audience members, and visitors,” said Susan Feldman, the theater’s artistic director. “We’re very hopeful and extremely thankful.”

The stage’s new plans debuted this week in front of Community Board 2 — the civic panel that St. Ann’s is eagerly trying to court, knowing that a good recommendation from the board can go far when it presents its plan to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, according to Irene Janner, the board’s first vice chairperson and a member of its Land Use Committee.

“If the conversions go through, this is a lovely design for it,” Janner said. “Doesn’t mean they should be there, but it’s a lovely design.”

Critics have long complained that handing over the Tobacco Warehouse to a private theater company would encroach upon public space, alleging in a 2010 lawsuit that the city illegally rezoned the Water Street site and awarded it to the world-renowned theater with the state’s backing.

Since then, a new plan that swapped the lost parkland at the Tobacco Warehouse with more than an acre of city-owned asphalt under the Manhattan Bridge enabled the avant-guard group the right to use the landmark.

Architect Jonathan Marvel doesn’t plan to raze the warehouse, but make a few slight adjustments to the exterior in creating a playhouse for the 153-year-old building tucked between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.

The design will give the Tobacco Warehouse a partial roof, housing a theater and a room for community meetings, with the original brick walls left exposed. The unroofed section will turn into a triangular birch tree grove that will be open to the public during park hours.

The new venue will be the fourth home to St. Ann’s, which began its life at St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn Heights, moved to a warehouse on Water Street near Dock Street in DUMBO, and is now in a temporary home on Jay Street between John and Plymouth streets.

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.
Updated 10:10 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Mom from Clinton Hill says:
Yes, I absolutely agree public parks land should be turned over to private for-profit entities. Otherwise, what's the point?
April 24, 2013, 7 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
If we don't allow a building to sit empty, we will lose the historic character of Brooklyn!
April 24, 2013, 8:10 am
John from Ditmas Park says:
Looks like a great plan. Go for it!
April 25, 2013, 12:34 am
Heloise from DUMBO says:
St. Ann's is absolutely not a "for-profit entity." Culture has an important role in the public use of public space.
April 30, 2013, 2:04 pm

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