In Focus

AGREEMENT REACHED WITH LOCAL COMMUNITY AND PRESERVATION GROUPS REGARDING BROOKLYN BRIDGE PARK

An Agreement has been reached with local community and preservation groups to provide for expansion of Brooklyn Bridge Park, ending months of litigation initiated by the BHA to prevent alienation of parcels located within the Empire State Fulton Ferry Park. 

As BHA followers know, we embarked on a very complex litigation over the past 18 months concerning a plan to remove the Tobacco Warehouse and Empire Stores, two important historical structures, from Brooklyn Bridge Park. Although we tried to resolve the underlying issues without litigation, it was clear that federal, state and city officials planned to develop those structures without public input, without providing substitute parkland (which the law requires), and without any meaningful public input into programming decisions. Through two successful lawsuits (one in federal court and one in state court), we put the brakes on these plans.

Having won the lawsuits, we were convinced of the importance of coming together with those on the other side of the litigation to forge a plan to resume work on the park on principled terms. Today, we concluded a negotiation process – which was led by our attorneys, Jim Walden and Jim Hallowell of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher – to resolve all the open issues.

State and city officials graciously came to the table to partner with us. In the end, we all agreed on a process that ensures public input, gives the community a role in programming at public spaces, and, most importantly, provides substitute parkland if, indeed, regulatory approval is obtained to develop the Empire Stores and Tobacco Warehouse for purposes other than parkland recreation.

We are very grateful to the state and city officials, and particularly to Regina Myer and Hank Gutman, for their very constructive roles during the negotiation process. State Senator Daniel Squadron and State Assembly Member Joan Millman were also extremely helpful to us in forging the right result.

We understand that some in our community were concerned that our position was intended to somehow thwart St. Ann’s Warehouse, which was slated to develop the Tobacco Warehouse as a cultural and community theater, from succeeding. It was not. Our lawsuit was intended to vindicate the public’s right to a full and open process for development decisions, protection of parkland and historically important structures, and the community’s role in programming public spaces. In fact, today’s resolution gives St. Ann’s Warehouse a lawful process that it may use to try to get the necessary approvals for re-use of the Tobacco Warehouse. We wish St. Ann’s well in that application. If it succeeds, today’s resolution guarantees that substitute parkland must be added to Brooklyn Bridge Park.

We are quite proud that our work over the past weeks ends the litigation, brings us back together with park officials, and allows the work of building the park to proceed. We would like to thank our fellow plaintiffs – the Fulton Ferry Landing Association, the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Preservation League of New York State – for working with us to achieve this great result. We also thank the National Historic Trust, which supported our litigation.

We want to say a special thank you to our lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher for their outstanding pro bono counsel. The other attorneys were Kimberly Yuhas, Matthew Menendez, Adam Cohen, Adam Jantzi, Lloyd Kim, Yara Mansour, Richard Falek, and Sharon Grysman, and they all worked very hard, along with Jim Walden and Jim Hallowell. Together, the GDC team devoted more than a thousand hours of their time to our matter, including long nights and many weekends.

Here are the specifics of the agreement, which the City announced today:

* There will be 38,000 square feet of new parkland in DUMBO for Brooklyn Bridge Park. This is significant since the initial attempt to develop the Tobacco Warehouse did not include any replacement parkland. If we do not believe that the substitute parkland is properly valued, we will have the right to submit an independent valuation to NPS during the conversion process.

* The agreement states that the National Park Service should decide the conversion issues on the merits, without political considerations.

* The BBPC must hold regular briefings for the community every two weeks during the conversion process, and place any correspondence about the conversion on its website. This is another major victory for us, as it ensures that any conversion process will be transparent.

* BBPC will keep the Tobacco Warehouse open to the public until any development takes place. Any construction plan will protect the historic character of the Tobacco Warehouse. The community will have a role in managing the use of the public space in the Tobacco Warehouse after any construction project is completed.

For the complete Terms of Settlement click here. 

A Memorandum of Understanding signed by Deputy Mayor Robert Steel, Regina Myer, President, Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp, NYS Senator Daniel Squadron and NYS Assembly Member Joan Millman, provides further protections regarding historic preservation and public space requirements noted above.