Friday, July 1, 2011

Who Says Cruise Ships are Bringing No Economic Benefit To Red Hook?

There was a New York Times article (here), published this week, covering the "Philly-Pinoy", a restaurant that opened on Pioneer Street over a year ago that is prospering by serving Filipino delicacies to home-sick cruise ship workers (many who are Filipino), who spend 10 months of the year on the ships, away from home, and craving some authentic home-style food.

It was an interesting enough story that not only educated the reader about the various exotic dishes that are part of Filipino cuisine, but also opened a small window into the lives of some of these ship workers who spend most of their year on the ships, only getting a couple of hours "off ship" on the days when the ships are in port, working hard and sending their hard earned money back to families - spouses, children, etc. - in their home countries, often not seeing them for a year at a time.

The story also noted that, despite this particular restaurant's success due to the patronage of the cruise ships workers, Red Hook was not getting much resultant economic benefit from the visiting cruise ships that have been calling this neighborhood home since 2006.

The NY Times article states -

"Last year, some 120,000 passengers passed through the terminal, spending roughly $30 million on souvenirs, meals and hotels in New York, according to city officials.

But only a small fraction of that money was spent in Red Hook. Most tourists spend their time, and money, in Manhattan or in Brooklyn’s more upscale areas."

Well, that's not much of a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention here in Red Hook, and studies in other cities seem to question the "economic benefit" that cruise ships bring, particularly to the neighborhoods in which they berth.

Take a look at this article from the "Vancouver Sun" regarding the costs v.s benefits of visiting cruise ships in Victoria, Canada -

"Environmental, social costs of cruise ship industry outweigh benefits, study for port neighbours says"

Here are some excerpts -

Annual economic benefits from the cruise industry reach $24 million at most, while costs are at least $28 million and could go up $33 million, the study says.

For the most part, economic benefits go to the business community and the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, while costs are born by residents and government.

Benefits stem from money spent by passengers, crew and cruise lines in Greater Victoria. They include everything from souvenir shopping, tours and attractions to wastewater collection and ship repair by local companies.

Costs include human health impacts from ship emissions, as well as traffic noise, wear on road infrastructure, public subsidies, marine effluents and lower property values.

“We have been far too long gulled by assertions of numbers that simply do not add up. Benefits are often grossly overstated and [there is] seldom any consideration of the costs"

Recently, with the long awaited deal being done to bring "shore power" to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal (a deal that will ultimately allow the ships to turn off their idling extra-dirty diesel burning engines, plug in to the city's power grid, and remove dangerous carcinogenic and asthma inducing substances from our neighborhood's air) there has been a little more coverage of the "costs" of cruise ship pollution. (In the last 5 years The New York Times has not done a single story on the broader issue of port pollution - from idling container ships, trucks and port equipment - its impact and cost to New York residents).

In testimony to the Pubic Service Commission, the Port Authority's Chris Ward stated that plugging-in cruise ships to shore power at the Brooklyn terminal will save Brooklyn residents an estimated $9 Million in monetized health costs - yearly.

That's some serious cost we're currently carrying - in asthma, heart disease, cancer, premature mortality and more. The EPA states that these costs are being carried disproportionately by our most vulnerable - our children, the elderly, people with lung disease, those who exercise outside, and low-income and minority communities located near ports

Then there are the other costs too, such as those created by the use of the traffic cops who are stationed around the neighborhood to direct traffic, the congestion, the wear and tear on the roads, etc. We're all paying for these through our taxes - while Carnival, which operates the cruise ships, is currently paying 1.1% in taxes (story here).

So let's get real about the cruise ships' economic benefit to Red Hook - directly. There are some who are benefiting, for sure, like the "Philly-Pinoy", the "Ling Gee" Chinese Restaurant on Van Brunt (I wrote about that in October 2009, here), "99c Dreams" on Lorraine Street, and I have heard that a few of the officers from the cruise ships drop into the various restaurants and cafes on Van Brunt Street.

But, let's be honest, we've yet to see much benefit from these sea-going behemoth's presence on our waterfront.

Even the terminal itself, surrounded by an asphalt, barren wasteland of a parking lot, gives very little back to the community that gave up meaningful waterfront access and the prospect of more "people friendly" uses for the building of the $56 Million terminal that was supposed to bring greater economic benefit of the city.

The NYCEDC who brought the cruise terminal to our neighborhood (and, more recently, the tourist helicopters) has yet to make good on "improvements" to the terminal site - through better access or community uses - nor has it been pushing forward on the promised new uses around the terminal, such as the creation of a permanent home for PortSide New York at the unique and historic Atlantic Basin, nor the promised creation of water-borne transportation (hello East River Ferry!), nor even the Governors Island Ferry that was a part of the deal "sweetener" when the EDC (controversially) gave Pier 11 to Phoenix Beverages (aka Long Feng Trucking), even though they already had a deal for Pier 7, defying the will of the community, our 197a Plan and Community Board 6 recommendations. Frustrating Side Note: The Pier 11 shed is currently used by Phoenix for recycling and garbage.

The point is, there is supposed to be "balance" when it comes to planning for our waterfront. When economic development is cited as the reason for the introduction or expansion of activities on our waterfront, these uses should not come at the expense of our residents - particularly the health of our most vulnerable, as has been the case with the cruise ships.

On a lighter note - it seems like one of Red Hook's newest establishments, "Paris Burlesque", is hoping to benefit from a little patronage from the visiting cruise ship workers once it opens later this month. You see, as I was wandering down to have a look at the ship idling at the end of my family's residential street this morning, I spotted a car pull up to a few men - workers from the ship, I'm pretty sure - who were exiting the Cruise Terminal pedestrian gate at the bottom of Pioneer Street.

Out of the car jumped three ladies, dressed in black, night-club attire (not risque, just a little dressy for the - as the NY Times called it - "scruffy" setting), with flyers, etc. in hand, who eagerly passed out brochures (pic below) to the men who were making their way up Pioneer Street - perhaps to Philly-Pinoy. Just as quickly, the women hopped back into the car and sped off - maybe hoping to intercept more prospective patrons up the street (I guess they were in a rush because 2 hours off the ship offers a pretty short opportunity for getting this information to these workers).

So, good for you "Philly-Pinoy", "Ling Gee", "99c Dreams", "Paris Burlesque", and the other businesses that are benefiting from the patronage of workers from the visiting cruise ships. It's nice that a few of our local businesses are seeing an opportunity here and are taking advantage of it.

But, wouldn't it be good to see a little more benefit to the neighborhood, our businesses and residents - and a lot less costs?

Left to Right (if you look closely - click on image to enlarge): Statue of Liberty, Caribbean Princess at BCT, Atlantic Basin "Blue Space", Container Terminal cranes with NY skyline, Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, Brooklyn Bridge, Bulkhead - Future Home of PortSide New York, Pier 11 Shed.


  1. The EDC is a scam which transfers $500,000,000 of money a year from various government agencies to businesses and their own pockets. That's right, half a billion dollars a year. It's on their publicly available financials. Of course no media coverage of that in the middle of a financial crunch. Closing down the EDC would save the city half a billion dollars a year.....

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  3. Cruise ship buisness and patronage is always welcome.

    Sunday, February 26th 1PM to 4PM FREE Entertainment, refreshments, face painting, petting zoo, pony rides, and much more.

    Bumblebees R-Us Day Care
    76 Lorraine Street..Brooklyn NY 11231
    For information call 718-858-8811

  5. looks like lots of fun....I will pass on to my neigbors....we have all been looking forward to this day cares opening....