With redevelopment imminent, are Red Hook’s industrial spaces at risk?

January 23, 2018

Red Hook waterfront; photo courtesy of Sunghwan Yoon’s Flickr

Like many waterfront communities in New York City, Red Hook is posed for a major redevelopment, with officials itching to bring new housing, commercial space and even mass transit to the industry-heavy Brooklyn neighborhood. In Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address this month, he said the neighborhood is “full of untapped potential” and called on the Port Authority to “accelerate consideration of relocating its Red Hook maritime activities to free up this waterfront for more productive community use.” While almost all of the area is zoned for manufacturing purposes, there’s been a significant reduction of industrial space in Red Hook, concerning its long-time residents as retail space has started displacing manufacturing, according to Crain’s.

The ship-repairing business Goltens closed in 2014 and the building was later converted into office space; photo courtesy of grarcade’s Flickr 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration created industrial business zones (IBZs) to protect existing industrial sites and encourage their growth. However, the zones are just designations that offer no real zoning protections. The city has given many special permits to allow non-industrial businesses to be built within an IBZ. One example is the Whole Foods on Third Street in Gowanus which was built on an M2-zoned lot, a designation the city describes as in between “light and heavy industrial.”

Manufacturing jobs are often better, and more plentiful than the retail jobs that replace them. Crain’s found a study by the Pratt Center for Community Development that compared the average income of one family employed in manufacturing and the other in retail, hypothetically. The study found a family earning the average manufacturing salary of $50,934 could afford to pay $1,231/month in rent while a family making the average retail or service income of $25,416 could afford just $593/month in rent.

Overall, the study concludes the city would have to spend a significant amount on providing affordable housing for a retail family than a manufacturing family. It also said the city should create policies to protect the higher-wage manufacturing jobs from being uprooted. The city tends to favor housing and retail over manufacturing as these tenants can usually pay more for the space.

While there are some zoning protections on the waterfront, the laws are often easy to get around. Last year, AECOM, a construction and engineering firm, released a proposal to develop 130 acres of Red Hook. Their massive plan includes creating a 12-tower high-rise residential development with 45,000 units, extending the 1-train and creating parks and waterfront flood protections.

Possible relocation site via Governor Cuomo’s office

Cuomo is also pushing for the neighborhood’s revitalization, exploring the option to relocate the maritime operations from the Red Hook Container Terminal to the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park. In addition to freeing up space for more recreational purposes, Cuomo wants to improve transportation access in the area. He called on the MTA to study ways to possibly extend subway service from lower Manhattan to a new station in Red Hook.

John Quadrozzi, the president of Gowanus Bay Terminal (GBX), has an idea to convince New Yorkers of the necessity and beauty of the industries of Red Hook. He told Crain’s that he imagines a historic boat floating near the Columbia Street Esplanade that would give tours and provide educational and historical information about maritime industries. It would teach residents about the essential goods that come out of the area and, Quadrozzi hopes, would allow the borough’s manufacturing waterfront to survive.

[Via Crain’s]


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  1. G

    Quadrozzi is a nut. However, Red Hook should remain a mixed use community. It needs to be landmarked – it has a tremendous history, many of the civil war era buildings remain. It would be a crime to homogenize the area as has happened in much of Williamsburg.