Federal parks officials say they did nothing wrong when they allowed the state to redraw the map of the Brooklyn waterfront to allow a historic building in a park to be redeveloped into a theater.
The National Parks Service issued the widely expected ruling on Tuesday that it supports its own 2008 decision that paved the way for the state to convert the decaying Tobacco Warehouse in DUMBO into a theater and cultural center inside Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The finding won’t stop the Brooklyn Heights Association — one of three groups that sued stop the renovation — from battling on.
“It should shock anyone committed to good government,” said Jane McGroarty, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association.
The federal ruling — and the outrage over it — stems from an extremely arcane bit of map-redrawing. In 2009, the state penned new park boundary lines that reclassified the warehouse as sitting on non-parkland, thus allowing private entities to take over what was once federally protected public land.
Sure enough, in November, the world-renowned theater troupe St. Ann’s Warehouse was given development rights to convert the crumbling and roofless building into a $15-million mixed-use performance hall and plaza.
Opponents, including the Brooklyn Heights and Fulton Ferry Landing associations and the New York Landmarks Conservancy, then sued, saying that the “state was pursuing a personal agenda on behalf of private commercial interests.”
The lawsuit claims two things: The state lied to feds about the location of the building so that it would no longer part of the federally protected parkland of Empire–Fulton Ferry State Park — and that the National Parks Service skirted its review duties by not questioning a state assertion that nobody used the site even though it actually has a long history of community support, funding and repair.
Just two weeks after the group filed the lawsuit, three prominent Brooklyn Heights Association members — David Offensend, Joanne Witty and Hank Gutman, who are all members of Myer’s board of directors — resigned from the group to protest the suit.
Nonetheless, the Park Service finding was hailed by supporters of the St. Ann’s project.
Brooklyn Bridge Park President Regina Myer called the ruling a step towards “a world-class performance space” that “will greatly benefit Brooklyn Bridge Park and the surrounding communities.”
Park officials said that they issued the Feb. 14 finding based on information — some of it new — about land boundaries, the condition of the building and use of federal grant money in the park.
But opponents said that the feds simply buckled to pressure from state and city authorities who were intent on giving the site to St. Ann’s, and needed a secretly redrawn map.
“It’s clear that the National Park Service — an agency charged with protecting our public parkland — has reneged on this duty and has yielded to political pressure from City Hall,” said McGroarty. “We will litigate vigorously so that these ‘back room’ deals do not rob the public of what is rightfully theirs.”