Performance arts center breaks ground at Brooklyn’s historic Tobacco Warehouse

November 1, 2013 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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After a hotly contested beginning, ground was broken on Thursday for a 25,000-square-foot performing arts center and community hub to be built within the iconic Tobacco Warehouse in DUMBO.

The event marked the beginning of a renovation project that will transform the roofless Tobacco Warehouse into the performing arts center, which is estimated to cost $27 million. It will serve as a permanent home for St. Ann’s Warehouse, a performing-arts institution that has been in Brooklyn since 1980. The renovated space is slated to open in 2015.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Borough President Marty Markowitz, St. Ann’s Warehouse Founder and Artistic Director Susan Feldman, Executive Director Andrew Hamingson, Board Chair Joseph Steinberg, Brooklyn Bridge Park President Regina Myer, Councilman Stephen Levin and state Senator Daniel Squadron all shared the stage.

“Today is another big day for Brooklyn Bridge Park and the beginning of a great new chapter in the history of the Tobacco Warehouse and the St. Ann’s Warehouse performing arts institution,” Bloomberg said. “The renovated warehouse will house a multi-use space for artists, schools and community groups and will be a wonderful addition to New York’s proud tradition of arts and culture in our public parks.”

“We have so many people to thank, most especially the mayor and his fantastic colleagues and staff in the city government that never gave up on the Tobacco Warehouse and for ensuring its future life for generations,” said Susan Feldman, St. Ann’s Warehouse’s founder and artistic director. “Without them, I am convinced it would have fallen.”

The Tobacco Warehouse, which dates to the 19th century, is made up of two segments, a large rectangle and a smaller triangle. Marvel Architects PLLC has designed a 18,000-square-foot enclosed building that will be inside the larger rectangular portion of the warehouse. It will contain a flexible performance space similar to St. Ann’s Warehouse’s previous homes.

The triangle space will be left as an open-air space . It will eventually contain a walled-in birch tree grove that will stay open to the public during park hours.

“The architectural challenge for us was to preserve the historic brick walls while designing a 21st century theater building,” said Jonathan Marvel, founding principal of Marvel Architects. “The glass bricks are the perfect way to extend the pre-Civil War walls without competing with them. “

St. Ann’s Warehouse got its start as Arts at St. Ann’s, which held its performances in the landmark Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn Heights from 1980 to 2001. The proceeds from performances helped to fund the restoration of the church.

In 2001, developer David Walentas and his wife Jane donated the use of a warehouse at 38 Water St. in Brooklyn, and Arts at St Ann’s officially became St. Ann’s Warehouse. The building at 38 Water St. was demolished last year, and St. Ann’s Warehouse has been looking for a permanent home since.

“One thing is for certain,” Markowitz proclaimed, “for decades ahead, the St. Ann’s audience will come to one of the most beautiful places on Earth, on the banks of the East River, to see exciting, groundbreaking music and theater productions with award-winning artists. Bravo!”

The groundbreaking also brought a happy ending to a hotly contested struggle over federal regulations governing park lands. The longstanding dream of St. Ann’s Warehouse founder Susan Feldman to restore the warehouse and house her theater there was finally realized.

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