The New York Times reports that a federal judge found that the National Parks Service, which oversees the tobacco warehouse and its surrounding land on the Empire Fulton Ferry Park along the Brooklyn waterfront, broke the law when they redrew the maps of the state land to exclude the warehouse without prior public hearings. This move allowed NPS to begin the approval process for St. Ann's to take over the venue. St. Ann's previously utilized the space for an acclaimed outdoor production of TR Warszawa's Macbeth in 2008.
The not-for-profit St. Ann's had proposed the construction of two performances spaces, including a 10,000-square-foot venue capable of seating 300-700 and a 2,100-square-foot flexible space that would seat roughly 125. A large, triangular section of the tobacco warehouse would be left uncovered, as an open-air public garden, with concessions, café tables and open arches leading into the Empire Fulton Ferry Park.
In 2009, St. Ann's announced that its current Water Street location in Brooklyn's Dumbo neighborhood had been approved by the city for redevelopment as a school and apartment complex. St. Ann's has resided at the location since 2001. The organization will stage one more season at the venue before exiting in May 2012, a St. Ann's spokesperson told Playbill.com.
Brooklyn residents fighting to preserve the 19th-century tobacco warehouse said they admired the work being done at St. Ann's, but did not want the government to give away national landmarks without a standardized approval process. The civic groups hope to allow the space to be used for various cultural events, including theatre performances, but do not wish to have the historic landmark turned over to the control of one organization.
St. Ann's had been counting on relocating to the tobacco warehouse and because of the almost certainty of the deal, St. Ann's had not explored other options to set up shop. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, which oversees several areas of the Brooklyn waterfront, including the Empire Fulton Ferry Park, said that St. Ann's proposal was "far and away the most exciting" that they had received, and that the warehouse was too dilapidated to be used as a public recreation area in its current state.
St. Ann's artistic director Susan Feldman told the Times, "Our vision was to turn the Brooklyn waterfront into a cultural center by transforming the tobacco warehouse into both a theatre and a public arts space. It leaves us maybe having to leave Dumbo. Perhaps even leaving Brooklyn. None of us want that, but the theatre we do at St. Ann's doesn't easily fit into pre-existing spaces that we've seen, and we want to continue to do that work."
St. Ann's has served as one of Brooklyn and New York City's major cultural hubs. The National Theatre of Scotland's Iraq War drama Black Watch made its U.S. premiere there in a sold-out run (and returned for several engagements). The U.K. Kneehigh Theatre production of Brief Encounter made its New York City premiere there; the title later transferred to Broadway. St. Ann's has also earned critical praise for staging the U.S. premiere of plays by Irish playwright Enda Walsh.