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St. Ann’s finds new theater space in DUMBO

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St. Ann’s Warehouse — the beloved cutting-edge theater company that is losing its current home to development and a proposed future home in Brooklyn Bridge Park after neighbors sued — is staying in DUMBO after all.

On Monday, the theater announced it signed a three-year lease for a building on Jay Street, ending months of searching for a new playhouse after a judge blocked it from taking over the historic Tobacco Warehouse in Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park.

“We’re very grateful,” said artistic director Susan Feldman. “This is our home and I’m glad we can stay.”

The giant brick warehouse near Plymouth Street is only blocks away from St. Ann’s Water Street theater and boasts 33-foot-high ceilings and column-free space fit for eclectic programming.

Feldman said that she’ll continue looking for a permanent home while crashing at Jay Street — though the space may “end up working for us.”

Peter Forman of Forman Realty Management, which owns the building, said that he offered Feldman a deal on rent after hearing about her search.

“St. Ann’s is the leading cultural institution in DUMBO and we really didn’t want to see them disappear,” Forman said. “It would have been like losing one of the fingers on your hand.”

The 31-year-old company had originally planned to convert the Tobacco Warehouse — a roofless Civil War-era structure — into a $15-million performance hall.

But that was before a judge ruled that the National Park Service improperly demapped the landmark to allow for private development and that it must remain in public hands.

The decision broke the hearts of troupers, theater lovers and especially Feldman, who slammed the preservation groups who filed the lawsuit for their “callousness” and “lack of support.”

The community was so sensitive to the theater’s plight that architects of a proposed hotel development in Brooklyn Bridge Park allotted space for a new St. Ann’s theater in their designs, though those won’t be done for years.

St. Ann’s launched in 1980 at the Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn Heights before moving to its rent-free location on Water Street two decades later.

Mega-developer David Walentas needs St. Ann’s building to make room for his controversial Dock Street development.

“When we moved to DUMBO, we had no idea how long we were going to stay,” Feldman said. “Nine months turned into 11 years. Jay Street might end up working for us. We’re taking it one season at a time and keeping our eye on the future.”

Reach Kate Briquelet at kbriquelet@cnglocal.com or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.
Posted 12:00 am, December 13, 2011
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