Preservationists: Ikea bad

The Brooklyn Paper
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As Ikea moves to city review of its plan to build a big-box store along the Red Hook waterfront, a real estate developer proposing an alternative development for the site has garnered support from city preservation groups.

That’s because to make way for the 346,000-square-foot home furnishing emporium, Ikea is looking to knock down about a dozen buildings, some dating back to the Civil War.

The former Todd Shipyards site, more recently known as the New York Shipyards — roughly bounded by Dwight Street, Columbia Street and the Erie Basin — was once home to the largest dry dock on the east coast. Civil War ships were among those repaired there.

While Ikea officials maintain that the buildings are beyond salvaging, Bill Struever, president of the Baltimore-based Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse (SBER) disagrees.

“That’s baloney,” said Streuver, who calls the buildings “majestic” and is looking to build a sprawling, 70-acre retail, residential and commercial development between Richards and Columbia streets along the Erie Basin.

“We do this as a business. We’ve done over eight million square feet of adaptive reuse of old industrial buildings including buildings that were in far worse shape than these buildings,” Struever told The Brooklyn Papers this week.

The company uses historic tax credits to help fund their projects.

With “spectacular views” and “terrific old buildings,” Streuver, whose company has projects up and down the eastern seaboard, can’t say enough about the area.

“It’s the most incredible site we’ve seen,” he said.

Struever says his plan would bring upwards of $2.5 billion of investment to the area and 5,000 jobs.

Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, supports the SBER plan.

“There are very few places on the waterfront where you have a sense of that era and the buildings of that era,” said Breen. “Clearly you can take buildings like this and do something with them if you have the imagination and the money.”

Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, said the organization had not taken an official stand on the project but said the “preservation of old buildings is an admirable and important element of any large-scale development plan.”

Carter Craft, director of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, a network of New Jersey and New York organizations concerned about the waterfront, said they were most focused on preserving the dry docks on the site where ships could be repaired.

With waterfront transportation on the rise and New York Water Taxi moving its homeport to Red Hook, Craft said there is growing need for dry dock space.

Alexandros Washburn, an architect working for SBER, described the shipyards as a “village,” with brick structures with heavy timber posts and machine buildings built in the 1920s that have a Bauhaus industrial design aesthetic with skylights and 20-foot-tall windows.

While preservationists might be pushing the SBER plan, Ikea has been in contract for the 23-acre site for almost two years and last week filed its application with the city, along with a hefty, 500-page environmental impact statement, as part of the public review process.

In addition to creating new jobs in Red Hook, an area of high unemployment. Ikea is planning a 6.3-acre public waterfront esplanade and plans to lease four piers to the neighboring Erie Basin Barge Port.

Ikea also promises 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 working-waterfront activities.

“Ikea has worked closely with both city and state historic preservation officials since the beginning of this project and we have determined that the Civil War-era structure currently located on the New York Shipyard site has deteriorated to a point that its re-use in the Ikea Red Hook project is not feasible,” said Pat Smith, project director for Ikea Red Hook.

Ikea land use attorney Jesse Masyr also blasted what he called a “so-called ‘alternative’ proposal,” saying it “exists solely as a fantasy rendering drawn over other people’s property.”

“There is absolutely nothing ‘real’ about this supposed alternative,” added Masyr.

Streuver said his company has contacted Ikea officials and offered to help them find an alternative site.

The Ikea application will be reviewed by Community Board 6, Borough President Marty Markowitz, the City Planning Commission and the City Council. The community board’s Landmarks/Land Use committee has scheduled the first public hearing of the process for

Thursday, May 13, at 6 pm at the PAL Miccio Center, at 110 W. Ninth St. in Red Hook.

If Ikea is approved by the city, Streuver said, his plan for the Red Hook waterfront is dead. But he said he is not throwing in the towel just yet and still hopes the city will turn down Ikea.

Said Streuver, “Our argument is that if you believe in [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg’s vision for the waterfront, [Ikea] is not the right thing.”

SBER does not currently own any of the land it wants to develop.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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