After 18 months embroiled in litigation and public controversy, a new tenant is now poised to take the stage in Brooklyn Bridge Park: St. Ann’s Warehouse. Having gotten the boot to make way for condominiums on 38 Water Street, the Dumbo theater known for its avant-garde repertoire is the conditional lessee slated to occupy a relic of Dumbo’s early industrial days: the Tobacco Warehouse on Water Street.
The move has been an embattled process, pitting community groups against local government in both federal and state lawsuits. But in early June, the plaintiffs (the park and the city) agreed on a plan green-lighting the next steps for the adaptive reuse of the Tobacco Warehouse as a theater and, for the adjacent Empire Stores, future conservation and conversion into mixed-use retail, including converted parkland to compensate for the development.
“The agreement starts a process to secure regulatory approval for reuse of that structure as a cultural and community-use venue,” explained Regina Myer, president of Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation. The organization now awaits the passage of state legislation to approve development as well as a go-ahead from the National Park Service, implicated because of a Land and Water Conservation Grant given to what was then Fulton Ferry State Park.
Working with St. Ann’s is H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture. The theater-savvy firm has designed what will essentially be a building within a building, featuring the beloved ruin. The intervention is an infill structure that will be “clean, minimal, and modern—complementing and not mimicking the historic building,” stated principal architect Geoff Lynch. For H3 the task was to preserve a romantic, historic space while creating a flexible staging area for the theater’s diverse programming. The triangular wedge beneath the Brooklyn Bridge will become a forecourt garden open for public use accessed from the park esplanade. Outdoor seating and a cafe will provide a gathering space as well as public amenities for park users and theatergoers alike, who will enter the theater itself through a small pavilion. Simple plate glass windows will offer sightlines to the park and water, while a roof, likely of a material like Cor-ten steel, will rise in complementary contrast to the preserved brick facade, according to Lynch.
Jane McGroarty, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA), points out that currently the empty warehouse is a porous entryway into the park. She voiced a concern that the evening draw of a theater will leave the building dormant for much of the day. BHA was plaintiff in the case, but overall McGroarty said the group feels satisfied. Referring to the less-than-an acre parcel underneath the Manhattan Bridge (now a painting facility) that will be knitted into the park, she said, “Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation has agreed it will follow the law and provide substitute parkland, making the park bigger and better in exchange for the park land they will be taking away.”