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Piering into the future of Red Hook

The Brooklyn Paper
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Red Hook’s gritty industrial waterfront will become a maritime-themed tourist attraction, under a new plan for the neighborhood’s piers unveiled by city officials this week.

“There is no reason why [Red Hook] cannot be a place where people go on weekends to walk around and shop in a diverse environment,” Kate Ascher, the executive vice president of infrastructure at the New York City Economic Development Corporation, said at a Community Board 6 presentation Tuesday evening.

About 100 people listened as five members of the EDC offered the latest plans for Piers 7-12, a one-mile stretch of Port Authority-owned waterfront that extends from Red Hook to up to Atlantic Avenue, which is the southern edge of the planned Brooklyn Bridge Park waterfront development.

Ascher called the now off-limits Red Hook piers a key piece of an ongoing effort to open up the waterfront.

“We envision a series of waterfront destinations: The East River Waterfront Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Governor’s Island and the Red Hook piers,” said Ascher.

If developed as open space, the piers would provide open access to the water for residential neighborhoods such as Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook itself.

The gritty neighborhood occupies a central role within the city’s sweeping plan to weave together two miles of waterfront split between industrial shipping and the new cruise ship terminals, under construction on Pier 11 and 12 at Columbia and Coffey streets.

At Tuesday’s presentation, Ascher referred to Red Hook’s Atlantic Basin, the body of water between Pier 11 and Pier 12 (see map), as the “sweet spot” for the project’s development and called the narrow commercial streets leading to those piers “the village green.”

The plan still calls for piers 7, 8, 9a and 9b to remain available for industrial shipping while the surrounding land would be available for the tourist-friendly makeover. Ascher said the area’s low-rise Civil War-era commercial strip could be converted to a mixed-use space with a maritime museum, a public school, a cafe or a brew-pub run by a relocated Brooklyn Brewery.

The narrow streetscape would be gussied up with historic plaques and the streets repaved and widened.

The new Red Hook will look much like the old one she said, adding that the real differences would be in infrastructure, not aesthetics.

“We aren’t talking about transforming Red Hook into a high-rise village,” Ascher explained.

Trolleys, new bus routes, above-ground parking lots and water taxi stops were all discussed as possibilities for creating the neighborhood as public space inviting to tourists and locals alike.

In order to make good on its plan, the city would have to take over control of about two miles of Port Authority-owned waterfront and upland properties in April, 2007 — after the expiration of the PA’s lease with American Stevedoring Inc, an international cargo shipping company that now occupies Piers 7-10.

Last year, the company ceded piers 11 and 12 to let the city build a cruise ship terminal. At the same time, ASI signed a short-term lease for the remaining piers.

A company spokesman said ASI is not sure how its business — and indeed the future of a working pier in Red Hook — will be affected if the waterfront switches from Port Authority to city control.

“I think we all need much more information before we understand what Ms. Ascher is talking about,” said ASI spokesman Matt Yates. “This is a multi-billion-dollar transaction [that’s] larger than the Hudson Yards or the Atlantic Yards.”

Other industrial parties interested in leasing pier space from the city include Brooklyn Brewery. Co-founder Stephen Hindy left Tuesday’s meeting eager to renew talks on moving the brewery from its current digs in Williamsburg to a pier on the Hook.

“We would love to get over there as soon as possible,” he said on his way out of the crowded meeting.



Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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