Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Red Friday" in Red Hook - November 27th

Please check out this exciting initiative from R.E.D - Red Hook Economic Development, a new group formed by many of Red Hook's small businesses.

Participating businesses will offering discounts on many of their wares - so don't miss the chance to pick up some bargains from these unique local stores. "The Word On Columbia Street" blog has some info here.

And this is from RED's Facebook Page. -

We've all heard of BLACK FRIDAY but, RED FRIDAY?

You bet!

Come to Red Hook, Brooklyn the Friday after Thanksgiving, November 27th, and get discounts on food, clothing, housewares and gifts. Participating businesses will be offering deals you can't pass up.

Walk along Van Brunt Street from Hamilton Avenue to the Water and down the cobblestone side-streets to start your holiday shopping season. When your feet need a rest, relax in some of the best restaurants, bars and cafes in this City.

Participating Businesses Include:

Metal & Thread


Red Lipstick

Foxy & Winston

Pier Glass



Suite 352 Hair Boutique

Thrifty Couture

Fort Defiance

Hair or No Hair

Nate's Pharmacy

Bait & Tackle


Liberty Sunset Garden Center

and more being added every day!

Oh, and don't forget to visit gorgeous Valentino Pier for the BEST view of the Statue of Liberty!! Bring your camera!

Look for the RED FRIDAY sign in shoppe windows to get the deals!

Well done, RED!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Brooklyn Paper's 30 Year Anniversary - Talking About The Red Hook Container Terminal

Brooklyn Piers - Circa 1982, courtesy of the Brooklyn Paper

As Part of their 30 year Anniversary edition, the Brooklyn Paper has a couple of articles about Red Hook.

Michael P. Ventura, in his article (titled on-line, "On the waterfront, but not ‘On the Waterfront’) refers to the 1960's plan to turn Red Hook's Piers into a fully fledged, large-scale container terminal. This plan would have required the demolition of most every building close to waterfront, including houses in areas West of the BQE on the Northern side of Hamilton Avenue - what is now referred to as the Columbia Street Waterfront District.

In another article in the Brooklyn Paper about Carroll Gardens, here, local businessman and activist, Buddy Scotto, referring to this plan, is quoted:

“Everything on the waterfront was to be demolished to make way” for the container port, Scotto said. "People would have to be relocated. The little mom and pop shops on Union Street and Columbia Street — like Cioffi’s, where people would line up to buy Italian pastries during the holidays — what would become of them?”

“A cloud of condemnation fell over the place,” Scotto said. “It got so bad, it felt like a bombed-out area.”

As we know, the large scale containerization plan never came to be, with most container operations being drawn to New Jersey, its greater "upland" area and connection to the national railway system. In fact, someone once explained to me that if Red Hook's Container Terminal was to create the same amount of "upland" space required for the storage of the containers as the Port of Elizabeth, the entire area between the waterfront and Prospect Park would have to be flattened. A quick Google Earth comparison of Red Hook terminal's tiny footprint to the vast acres of upland space at the container ports on the New Jersey side would seem to confirm that bewildering statement.

But, as noted by Ventura in the earlier piece, the failed containerization plan became a defining moment for Red Hook initiating a period that, he says, "hit hard". A time from which the neighborhood is still "struggling to recover".

It was a period that led to the halving of Red Hook's residential population and the blighting of the neighborhood, seemingly giving Red Hook the green light to become, by the 80's, as described by Red Hook Civic Association Co-President John McGettrick, "the city’s dumping ground" - complete with 20 waste transfer stations, two planned sludge processing facilities and a dirty cement plant, located at the site of the ATF Building, alongside what is now Valentino Pier.

John McGettrick goes on in the article to note that most of what has come in the 20 or so years after this period has been an improvement. One waste transfer station remains, but the neighborhood fought and won the battle, lead by the group G.A.G.S. (Groups Against Garbage Sites), to keep more more garbage dumps out of the neighborhood - a plan pushed by the Giuliani administration. The old cement factory was closed down, replaced by the ATF building - it's chain-link enclosed parking lot has some of the best views of New York Harbor! - and the neighboring plot of waterfront land eventually became the much loved Valentino Pier and Park.

There have been other contentious matters. The coming of both Fairway and Ikea created concern and protest. Ikea, because its coming into the neighborhood came at the price of destroying historic waterfront infrastructure - the graving dock - and the questionable use of valuable waterfront land. There were also worries because the store was seen as a harbinger of more "big box" stores on the Red Hook waterfront. We'll wait to see if those fears are realized with the Thor Equities plan for a BJ's on the old Revere Sugar site. Also, cement plants seem to be back on the list of Red Hook businesses after the announcement of the unpopular plan to establish such an operation on a plot of land next to Ikea, the Erie Basin Park, across the street from Added Value Organic Farm, Red Hook Ballfields and on the proposed Brooklyn Greenway route. After outcry about the inappropriateness of the site and the adverse effects of the cement dust and pollution on the neighborhood's residents' health, children playing in the fields and the organic farm, the City and State have said that they will be keeping the plant on a "short leash" (Gary Buiso's Brooklyn Courier story here). Again, we'll have to wait and see on that one.

However, it's the been the proposed uses of the Red Hook Piers that have most clearly defined the direction and vision for the future of the neighborhood. The proposed uses of the site have varied from the previously mentioned disastrous plan to raze the whole neighborhood and create a huge container terminal, to the much more recent 2005 proposal when Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) were pushing for a plan that would have replaced the existing, much smaller container port occupying Piers 7-12 with other uses. The 2005 plan was created in response to goals set through consultation with the community and articulated by Community Board 6 and Red Hook's 197a Plan. It included some new residential buildings on Columbia Street, a Cruise Terminal on Piers 12 and possibly another on Pier 10, a hotel, extensive public access, open green space, as well as other "maritime-themed" activities (sailing school, marina, boat building and other vendors and artisans) and expanded transportation options - water taxi, ferries, etc. This plan got as far as the establishment of the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal on Pier 12 (opened in 2006) and the acquisition of Pier 11 on the Atlantic Basin, but in late 2007 the rest of the plan, like the previously mentioned one, was abandoned. The political pressure from various supporters of the Container Terminal's operators, American Stevedoring - ASI, (some who were also recipients of campaign contributions from ASI), including Rep. Jerry Nadler, Councilman David Yassky and Speaker Christine Quinn (story here) and their cries about the loss or relocation of the 70 or so jobs that the terminal supported, seemed to dissuade the Mayor and his team from going any further. The Container Terminal and ASI would stay.

American Stevedoring's continuing operation of the container terminal was secured soon after with a new 10-year lease (no-one else was allowed to tender for the operation), and new leadership at the Maritime section of the EDC pushed for a whole new plan for the remaining section of the waterfront not leased to ASI - essentially Pier 11 and the Atlantic Basin. The new team at the EDC apparently thought of the City's previous plan as a "yuppie wonderland" - their words, not mine - and they stated that their goal was to "consolidate and expand" the operations of the Container Terminal.

Anyone who has been paying attention (or reading this blog) knows what has happened since with the EDC's contentious plan, announced earlier this year, for the relocation of Phoenix Beverages to the Brooklyn Piers - taking both Pier 7 and 11 and their sheds (despite only initially wanting either one OR the other) with a 20-year lease and bringing 200 more truck trips a day to our neighborhood. The Atlantic Basin water space is not being used by Phoenix. However, in a small concession to the call for waterfront access and open space, PortSide New York has been allocated a 600 foot frontage on the Basin, as well as being given a portion of the Pier 11 shed to use for their home base. They will be mooring their ship, the Mary Whalen, in the Basin and will be using the historic vessel to mount their cultural activities and community outreach programs. There has also been a commitment to allow the Brooklyn Greenway to build their route along the waterfront instead of pushing it onto Van Brunt Street, as the EDC had previously wanted.

Looking forward, it is still this small portion of the waterfront that has the potential to create a lasting effect on the community of which it is a part. What else can come to the Atlantic Basin? Will there be a call to create more activities within the Basin's "blue space"? What about the establishment of water-borne transportation based within the basin - Water Taxi, Governor's Island Ferry? Could the underused asphalt parking lots surrounding the Cruise Terminal and Pier 11 be used for community activities - stalls, markets, etc? Will we demand more access to the waterfront - especially around the Cruise Terminal - and will we advocate for the creation of some open space to enjoy the waterborne activities, as is seen in other parts of the world? Will there be further consideration and assessment of ways this valuable and historic asset can be used to nourish the growing number of Red Hook residents, to attract more people to visit the neighborhood and to bolster the small businesses and resident-entrepreneurs popping up all over the neighborhood - including the many resident-owned stores, old and new, along Van Brunt Street and beyond? Will the owners of the dormant 160 Imlay Street building overlooking the Atlantic Basin site take advantage of its zoning, and turn it into a home for new residents and a place for commercial use - maybe even live-work space?

Additionally - and this is my personal cause - will the EDC, Port Authority, City of New York and all involved finally come good on making sure the activities of the port don't pollute the residents who are their neighbors. Will they get "shore power" established for the cruise ships and container ships to finally put an end to the negative impact of their carcinogenic diesel smokestack emissions on our residents? Will they get a clean truck program up and running, as they are doing successfully in Long Beach and elsewhere on the West Coast? (story here). Surely economic development shouldn't happen at the expense of the health of our most vulnerable residents.

So, what will the next 30 years bring to Red Hook? Will the Container Terminal eventually relocate to where some say is a "better" location - Sunset Park - where there is access to more upland space as well as the potential for regional rail connection via the proposed Cross Harbor Rail Tunnel (a favorite project of Rep. Nadler)? Will it remain at its Red Hook location and "grow", as the EDC has suggested. What will the effect of the plans for Governor's Island have on its closest neighbor? Will Chris Ward, Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, follow up on his statements made earlier this year? - covered in the Brooklyn Eagle (here) -

"The future of the Brooklyn waterfront is tied to and intrinsically linked to our ability to rebuild Governor’s Island,” he said “We must look at Governor’s Island as a takeoff point.

“We need integrated planning now. We need to be smart enough about the Brooklyn waterfront to ask what we want to keep and what we want to move out.”

Referring to the containerport in Red Hook, its proximity to the Cruise Ship Terminal and Governors Island and their needs for hotel rooms and services and potential ferries, he said the city needs to ask, “Is this where we want our last working containerport?”

Ward recommends that the containerport be moved south to 39th Street in Sunset Park in space where automobiles are shipped in and stored now."

Mr. Ward hasn't exactly followed through with any more statements on this matter.

Regardless, will it be these "outside" entities making decisions (or not) for our neighborhood, or will the Red Hook community speak clearly and strongly for what it wants?

Whatever happens, as always, it's surely the use of the precious Red Hook waterfront that will continue to determine the character of our neighborhood.

For better, or for worse.

The Atlantic Basin, Circa 1911 - via

Thursday, November 19, 2009

OFF THE HOOK : Original Plays by Red Hook Kids - Friday and Saturday

This inspiring Falconworks Artists Group event takes the stage again this weekend. Shows are presented at PS 15 - The Patrick Daly School. The address is 71 Sullivan Street (between Van Brunt and Richards) in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Admission is free!

Call (718)395-3218 for reservations and information. You can also make reservations online here.

Times: Friday, November 20, 2009 at 7:00 PM - Saturday, November 21, 2009 at 3:00 PM

Description: Six young playwrights, with the support of professional writers, actors, directors, and creative artists, take center stage in their own plays for an evening of funny, moving, raw, original theater.

This from the Falconworks website -

Theater By and For Communities

Falconworks Artists Group is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to support and empower communities and individuals through theater that addresses personal and local issues. Founded in 1997 and incorporated in 2004, Falconworks offers the opportunity for each of our program participants to reflect on the reality of their lives, to ask questions, and discover their own power to make a positive change. Our current activities include workshops in play-writing and performance that encourage individuals to tell their own stories; partnerships with community-based organizations to develop theater that educates audiences and participants about pressing local issues; and mentoring by theater professionals and collaborations in theater that promote self-worth.

This is a great event - come out and support these kids, this worthy organization and the great work they do.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

New York Times Story On "Counterintuitive" Red Hook Cement Plant (plus NEW UPDATES)

Today's New York Times has a story (here) about the soon-to-open Cement Plant in Red Hook. This matter has been covered fairly well in the local press - The Brooklyn Papers, The Brooklyn Courier and in blogs such as this one (my post here). However, it's the first time a city-wide paper has done a story on this contentious development and it's great to see the matter get the visibility it deserves, especially in such an important publication as the NY Times.

In the article titled (using what would be a typically Brooklyn Paper-esque pun) "Dust Has Yet To Settle Over New Concrete Plant", by Joseph Berger, it is noted that the placement of the plant next to "yellow-and-blue Ikea next door, heavily used baseball fields across the street, and a 2.75-acre farm nearby on a former playground" is causing great concern. Noting that such developments may have come to Red Hook without objection years before, but that the timing of this development had created enough outrage from Red Hook's 11,000 residents to stage protests and garner 700 signatures on a letter of opposition to the plant, with signatures from such allies as representatives from the Red Hook Houses, the Red Hook Civic Association, Added Value Organic Farm and many others.

The article neglected to mention that the site was also located right next to the proposed Brooklyn Greenway route - another seemingly incompatible neighbor to add to the long list.

The concern is that the dust from the plant would not only coat the organic greens produced at the Added Value Organic Farm - produce that often ends up on the the menu of some of Brooklyn's finest eateries - not to mention into their workers' lungs, but that the dust would also compromise the air quality in the much used playing fields adjacent to the Cement Plant site. These fields are used, as the article notes, by "Brooklyn’s private schools as well as the borough’s mosaic of immigrants. The park is home to a rugby league, a Mexican baseball league and a Chabad Hasidic league."

Peter Morales, the commissioner of the Red Hook Little League, is quoted as saying that "during the season six of his teams play three days a week across from the plant."

“The kids running the bases breathe through their mouths, and they’re going to be inhaling this stuff,” he said.

One other interested party not specifically mentioned in this article - one that would seem to have problems with the location of this plant - is Xavier High School. Xavier, as this NY Post Article by Gary Buiso notes, has been approved to "refurbish the football field on Columbia Street (directly across the street from the Cement Plant), installing synthetic turf and bright lights making nighttime games or practices a new possibility. Xavier High School recently completed raising $1.5 million for a restoration of the field in Red Hook Park."

This deal was done before news of the new Cement Plant came to light ... I wonder what Xavier have to say about their new neighbor - especially after going through this long process, seeking Community Board 6 and Department of Parks and Recreation approval, carefully planning and painstakingly raising all that money.

It was interesting to see the spokesperson from Ikea quoted in the piece as well. Early on it seemed as though Ikea would be making its objections to their new neighbors clearly known. But, as the article states, "Ikea, less than pleased, realized there was nothing it could do. Joseph Roth, Ikea’s director of public affairs, said that the company hoped that if the plant actually opened, it would be “a good neighbor.”"

I'm sure Ikea is still not pleased about the dust-creating hoppers from the plant being mere feet from their air conditioning intakes ... what challenges that poses for the efficient operation of those units, their maintenance and the effects on air quality within the store is another unknown in this whole equation.

A couple of phrases from this article resonated with me. Mr. Berger, the journalist, referred to Red Hook's "split-personality", a nod to the mixed-use character of Red Hook, with industry, commercial and residential all co-habitating. He also implies that, given Red Hook was not the "gritty, tumbledown" neighborhood in which previously (perhaps) a cement plant would have been seen as appropriate, it was the "timing" of the introduction of the plant that was the problem. The decision seemed archaic. Mr. Berger counts the introduction of the cement plant as running against "counterintuitive changes" that have come to the neighborhood.

"Counterintuitive"? That also seemed to me like as good as description as any for some of the developments being introduced to our neighborhood - including the cement plant. I had thought of others - illogical, inappropriate, short-sighted, or just plain wrong. The reality of Red Hook to those that live here can be vastly different than to those who merely gaze at zoning maps, or drive through on their way to IKEA or Fairway, or read articles referring to Red Hook as an "industrial neighborhood". Well it's not just an industrial neighborhood. Over 11,000 people live here - many in public housing. Families make their homes here and more are coming. Small businesses are opening by the week - many of them owned by residents. Our neighbors, from Red Hook and beyond, use the parks, bike routes and (albeit it limited) waterfront access and associated activities to enrich their lives. People are living their lives in this neighborhood, trying to make the most of it and trying to ensure that their health is not compromised by the activities of their neighbors. To ignore this fact is a slap to the face of those residents.

The article seems to acknowledge this fact. You don't need an outdated zoning map to let you know whether these developments are appropriate or not.

Wander around, have a chat to a local, drop into a store, get a feel for the place.

It's obvious.

View Proposed Cement Plant in a larger map

UPDATE: The Blog "Evironmental and Urban Economics - Thoughts on environmental and urban issues from an economics perspective." has an interesting post on this matter titled - "Is Brooklyn a Green City - New Cement Production in Red Hook"

In the post, Mathew E. Kahn asks -

"as Manhattan's boroughs become yuppie --- where should the nasty production activity take place? Where is the path of least resistance? Does this community "like" pollution? No, they are probably a renter; poor; low voice community who faces transaction costs to organize to oppose the entry of such a production facility. NIMBY politics causes this search . The issue is a property rights issue. Do communities have the right to not face such noxious facilities? Does the cement plant need to make a transfer to the community it enters and how large should that transfer be to compensate the "victims" for the quality of life damage its production causes."

Also he states -

"if the land where the Cement Plant is about to open has been zoned "nasty industrial" then property next to it should sell for a price discount to reflect the pollution damage that is likely to be caused by their neighbor."

He continues -

"if the land where the Cement Plant is about to open has been zoned "nasty industrial" then property next to it should sell for a price discount to reflect the pollution damage that is likely to be caused by their neighbor. If I can buy a cheap house because the house is next to a dump, I can't complain that I live next to a dump. I picked it and I was compensated for living there. So, my question here is "what is the new news?" Is the cement factory nastier than was expected? In this case, the neighbors have not been fully compensated for the damage they are now feeling. Alternatively, the neighbors want a free lunch of low land purchase price and no pollution."

The points he makes are valid ones - however, when you're talking about the prices of real estate reflecting the reality of noxious activities in a neighborhood - in other words - "you got a cheap house, so suck it up" - this kind of ignores the fact that most of the people who will have to bear the burden of the pollution in this case have no real choice of where to live. The residents of public housing are the vast majority of Red Hook's population. Asthma rates in Red Hook are around 40%. There is already enough pollution to challenge the health of the most vulnerable in our community - whether it be from the hundreds of trucks and private buses, container ships, cruise ships, car traffic on the BQE - with more truck and ship pollution coming from the relocation of Phoenix Beverages.

Any additional pollution is a concern.

Isn't it fair to ask that any new business shouldn't impose further burden on the health of the community in which it hopes to operate - regardless of Zoning?

ONE MORE THING: In my last post on this subject, here, I quoted the statements made to the Brooklyn Paper's Zeke Faux (article here) - statements from Jim Vogel, aide to State Senator Velmanette Montgomery. He spoke out in a way that other representatives, including Councilmember Sara Gonzalez haven't on this matter. I thought they were worth repeating again.

Senator Montgomery's aide said,

"his office would keep fighting the plant because the neighborhood has changed since the “heavy industry” zoning was put in place decades ago."

Mr. Vogel went on to say,

“I don’t think they appreciate the density of this area and how litigious New Yorkers can be ... If you’re opening a cement plant in an area with a 40-percent asthma rate, you’d better open your pocket book, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time in court.”

UPDATE 2: The Brooklyn Eagle has an editorial commenting on IKEA's impact on Red Hook - but also referring to the Cement plant, (here). Dennis Holt writes,

And then someone throws a spanner into things. A cement company is building a cement factory across the street from IKEA. The company has the legal right to do so, and no one seems to be able to do anything about it.

Apparently, IKEA hasn’t tried to use its influence, but a cement plant shouldn’t be built near a major destination shopping center, a waterfront park, and close by sporting fields. It really doesn’t belong on this part of Red Hook’s consumer waterfront. (my emphasis)

Mr. Holt is right on this one. Though, regarding the main thrust of his editorial referring to Ikea "keeping their promises" to the community of which it now is a part. There is the matter of the free Water Taxi - even to non-customers.

Unfortunately, that was a promise not kept.