A Tobacco Warehouse in DUMBO: Public Park or Public Theater?

New York might be rather enormous, but there’s not much space here. Who should decide how a space is used? A recent court case causes us to ask, who should decide how an old Tobacco Warehouse in the Brooklyn neighborhood of DUMBO is used?

DUMBO is a sort of mecca for artists in New York, with local real estate organizations such as
Two Trees setting aside spaces specifically for artistic and cultural activities. One cutting-edge performing arts organization, St. Ann’s Warehouse, made its home in DUMBO in 2001. St. Ann’s will need to find a new home now that David Walentas, a developer at Two Trees, has made new plans for the group’s current building.

Attempting to save St. Ann’s, The City of New York made arrangements for a 19th century tobacco warehouse located in Brooklyn Bridge Park to be donated to the organization. Local groups protested and brought a lawsuit against the City and the Service.

“The National Park Service and the state parks department acted illegally by removing the Tobacco Warehouse from the public domain. It belongs to the park, where it can be enjoyed by all,” said the president of the Brooklyn Heights Association.

The Judge seemed to agree and granted an injunction, ordering the City and the National Parks Service to immediately revert to the park’s original borders and ordering St. Ann’s Warehouse to stop developing the space.

The City’s legal office said that it will continue to pursue the Tobacco Warehouse project, even if the opposition groups win the suit. It will do so through the legal process of “conversion“, in which the City could substitute a new public outdoor space of equal usefulness and value for the one being developed.

How should the law determine the value of a use of space?

Read more at ArtForum and New York Daily News

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