5Pointz Aerosol Art Center is an outdoor art exhibit space in Long Island City, New York, considered to be the world’ premiere ‘graffiti Mecca’. It is surely doomed after federal judge Frederic Block ruled on Friday, “the building, unfortunately, is going to have to come down.”

Artists have been painting the 200,000-square-foot warehouse since the 1990s without intervention of the property owners, Jerry and David Wolkoff, who now have plans to redevelop the site. One of the artists, Block, is leading a group of artists in a lawsuit against the Wolkoffs. Lawyers for the 5Pointz graffiti artists cited an obscure law that prohibits the destruction of art in their effort to block the redevelopment. However, whether the arosol works are protected under statute is controversial, because the works are usually illegal.

“I love the work and it’s going to tear my heart out to see it torn down, but as a judge I have to apply the law,” Federal Judge Frederic Block said, referring to the owner’s right to develop the property. 5Pointz reputation as an epicentre of the graffiti scene has united aerosol artists from across the globe. Its looming destruction is part of a major debate about the legal status of street art.