Ikea feeling Red Hook heat

The Brooklyn Paper
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Ikea has changed its plans for a massive waterfront store in Red Hook to include active use of several surrounding piers, an official with the Swedish home furnishings giant told The Brooklyn Papers this week.

The changes — which would have Ikea leasing most of the piers in the New York Shipyard site for maritime use — come in response to community concerns over maintaining a working waterfront, said the spokesman. But they may also have been spurred on by an alternative plan for the site put forth by some Baltimore harbor developers.

Red Hook activists opposed to the Ikea plan have been meeting with principals of the Baltimore-based Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, a development company known for adaptive reuse projects. The company put together a plan for a sprawling, 70-acre, retail, residential and commercial development on the shipyard site between Richards and Columbia streets.

A rendering of the plan was made available exclusively to The Papers and appears at right.

Architect Alex Washburn, a planner of the mixed-use proposal, said the project was still in the early phases.

“The objective is to come up with a plan that provides more jobs, more investment, more public access and more imaginative use of the waterfront,” Washburn said.

The plan could pump upwards of $2 billion into the Red Hook area, according to John McGettrick, co-chair of the Red Hook Civic Association and a vocal opponent of the Ikea proposal.

Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse is also eyeing the Revere Sugar Refinery property on Richards Street to be included in the plan. As reported in last week’s Brooklyn Papers, that property is currently in contract to an unnamed buyer.

Similarly, an Ikea official said his company is in contract for the 23-acre shipyard site (another 23 acres of the property comprise the Erie Basin waters between the breakwater piers) — and has been for the past two years.

Pat Smith, project director for Ikea Red Hook, said he found it “curious” that news of the other plan began circulating just weeks before the company was set to certify their plans with the Department of City Planing, starting the clock on the city’s public review process.

Because the site is zoned as M-3, meant for heavy manufacturing, both plans would need a variance and would face the city’s rigorous Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

Asked this week to comment on the alternative proposal, Smith said, “You have the Ikea project — there is no other project.”

Instead, he touted changes to the Ikea site made after what he called two years of planning and 50 community meetings.

Those changes include leasing four piers to the neighboring Erie Basin Barge Port, which is home to 200 working vessels. The extra piers would allow for upwards of 40 more vessels, according to Bob Hughes, vice president of the barge port.

Ikea also announced plans to maintain a dry dock, convert an existing pier into a public area and maintain five gantry cranes on the site so visitors can learn about waterfront activities, according to Smith. The changes also include increasing a public esplanade along the water to 6.4 acres, or a mile end to end.

Ikea will be making a presentation of its plan to Community Board 6 at a special public meeting on April 15 at 6 pm at the P.A.L. Miccio Center, at 110 W. Ninth St.

But word of the changes this week did little to quell the fears of some residents who believe that an Ikea will turn the entire neighborhood into a knot of truck and car traffic.

“They want to take some of the most extraordinary waterfront property in New York City and turn it into a mall, and then the rest of the community becomes a parking lot,” McGettrick said.

Concerns over traffic are at the forefront for opponents of the plan, who estimate up to 20,000 visitors each Saturday. Ikea estimates 5,000 cars on a Saturday.

Ikea is proposing to build a $70 million, 346,000-square-foot store on the former shipyard, between Dwight and Columbia streets along the Erie Basin. The company would also build 1,400 parking spaces and Ikea has proposed running ferry service to the store from downtown Manhattan.

The project would also include 71,400 square feet of adjacent restaurant and retail space.

Ever since it was first announced, the Ikea proposal has pitted community member against community member, with those seeking to bring more jobs to the area on one side and those seeking to minimize traffic and increase available housing on the other.

Ikea proponents, including the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corp., said they would oppose any alternative plan that includes residential development.

Igor Katsman, vice president of operations for Snapple, agrees.

The Snapple distribution site for New York City is based in Red Hook and moves 500 million cases of the soft drinks in and out of that location each year.

“I’m against adding any residential because any residential units would be expensive and this is the type of people that don’t want trucks around,” said Katsman, who had not seen or heard about the alternative plan.

“They will drive us out,” he cautioned.

The Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, posted the Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse rendering — complete with sailboats — on its Web site this week.

Julia Vitullo-Martin, a senior fellow for the institute, praised the development.

“This particular development seems to be unusually beautiful and follows all the principles of good planning,” said Vitullo-Martin, who said he wants to see the “highest and best use” for the waterfront property.

Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse have previously undertaken the reconstruction of Fenway Park in Boston and the outer harbor in Baltimore.

A spokesman for the company said this week that the company’s president, Bill Struever, was out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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