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Carter's View

The board of directors of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation today selected the St. Ann's Warehouse theater company, which has been based in Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO for 21 years, will take over and renovate the vacant Tobacco Warehouse in the park. converting it into a $15-million mixed-use performance hall and plaza, according to an article by Andy Campbell in today's edition of The Brooklyn Paper.

"The choice of St. Ann's Warehouse - popular with fans of cutting-edge theater and frequent performer Lou Reed - was not a surprise, given the company's fundraising efforts and current location in a squat building on Water Street across from the Tobacco Warehouse," the article said, adding that executives of the theater company said that they had already raised one third of its $15 million.

Artistic Director Susan Feldman said the win would not just be a victory for theater-goers: "There's going to be so much more access - for us and the park-goers," adding that "We feel like we have a real chance to save this shell of a building and serve cultural needs of the community."

The 19th Century building is to be transformed into a self-sustaining community center that will host cultural events and performances year-round starting in 2013.

"The initial design," according to the article, "features an open-air plaza, an enormous roofed performance space that takes up the majority of the indoor section, another multi-use show room and space for subtenants that will change throughout the year. It's a big change for the 1870s-era Tobacco Warehouse, which is currently a roofless, slowly decaying open space that's used for little more than wedding receptions and the occasional celebrity event."

On Monday night, the development corporation had unveiled two plans Monday night at Borough Hall in Brooklyn to utilize the two-story Tobacco Warehouse building, a roofless 19th Century landmark in Dumbo.

One of the plans call for a pyramid structure to be built within the complex. It had been proposed by LAVA/Volcano Love, a theater/dance/acrobat troupe based in Prospect Heights. Its plan called for trapeze equipment to be erected in part of the compound.

The other plan was submitted by St. Ann's Warehouse, a theater-group/performance space group that now occupies a building across Water Street from the Tobacco Warehouse and its building is slated to be demolished to make way for Two Trees' Dock Street project.

The Tobacco Warehouse, originally built by the Lorillard family, sits on the upland of Empire-Fulton Ferry Park, just north of the Brooklyn Bridge, and just south of the Empire Stores. Together, these landmark 19th century warehouses are vivid reminders of the shipping activity that once defined the downtown Brooklyn waterfront.

Constructed in the 1870s as a tobacco customs inspection center, and saved from demolition in 1998, the roofless rooms of the Tobacco Warehouse provide one of the most compelling public spaces in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation repaired and stabilized the Warehouse in 2002.

The total size of the Warehouse is approximately 25,000 square feet, offering an 18,000 square-foot, column-free footprint.
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Architecture Critic Carter Horsley Since 1997, Carter B. Horsley has been the editorial director of CityRealty. He began his journalistic career at The New York Times in 1961 where he spent 26 years as a reporter specializing in real estate & architectural news. In 1987, he became the architecture critic and real estate editor of The New York Post.