Beer suds could be a dud-Phoenix distributor faces tough sell on the waterfront

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The city this week formally announced its intentions to bring Phoenix Beverages, the region’s largest beer distributor, to the Red Hook waterfront, a move some say represents an anachronistic step backward in the plan to revitalize the area.

As first reported in this newspaper last November, the deal to locate the Long Island City-based company to Pier 11 has yet to be finalized, but Phoenix has expressed optimism that a lease would be worked out soon, ending the firm’s long search to find a new home.

“The overall theme here is supporting the port and keeping the spirit of a working waterfront in Red Hook,” Venetia Lannon, a vice president with the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the quasi-public agency behind the plan, told the Economic/Waterfront Committee of Community Board 6.

Over three years ago, the EDC was equally as enthusiastic over a different vision of the Red Hook waterfront, one that saw the neighborhood as a tourist-friendly destination complete with cozy shops, restaurants and a hotel. But the plan, which would have booted the container terminal from Piers 7-10, was scuttled once the terminal won a long term lease from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the land.

“That sent us back to the drawing board,” Lannon conceded.

“Phoenix has been telling us for a long time that if they don’t find a home,” Lannon continued, they would be forced to move to New Jersey. “This was a great concern for this administra­tion.”

The EDC said it still favors “public access that is safe,” and would issue requests for proposals (RFP) for a cultural center and a marina.

Along with 50 to 100 new jobs, Phoenix’s arrival would bring about 100 trucks daily to the neighborhood, Lannon said. The EDC has a commitment that the fleet would convert entirely to cleaner-burning compressed natural gas, she added.

The trucks will have “ready access” to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and would not be “wandering through local streets,” Lannon insisted. And everything arriving at the facility would be required to be brought in by water-borne transport, she said.

Not everyone was impressed.

Pioneer Street resident Adam Armstrong called the EDC’s proposal “archaic” and said hundreds of trucks a week rumbling in and around a neighborhood already dealing with pollution issues is too much to bear.

“Despite their assurances that they will not be directed down our residential streets, we are always fighting stray truck traffic which endangers our children,” he said in a strongly worded letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who he said has supported Phoenix’s relocation.

“Phoenix will not be using the basin itself – its waterborne craft will actually be using pier 10 and the goods will then be ‘trucked’ to the pier 11 shed – what an inefficient use of energy creating further pollution and a wasted opportunity to use the ‘harbor’ to its fullest potential,” Armstrong continued.

Lannon’s presentation was followed by one from Tom Fox, president of New York Water Taxi, who along with business partner The Durst Organization, the Manhattan-based real estate development firm, would like to occupy Pier 11 with a man-made beach, along with a dry dock marina and other amenities, a plan that was initially submitted to an EDC request for proposals in 2007. But with the grander plans squelched, the EDC decided not to selected any proposals for the 17-acre Atlantic Basin.

Carolina Salguero, director of PortSide New York, which is vying to establish a maritime cultural center at a berth at Pier 11, also made a presentation.

Fox’s said his hope is that Phoenix could be located on Pier 7, which is currently leased to the container terminal American Stevedoring International (ASI), so that his scheme, which also includes an expansion of his taxi fleet, could take hold on Pier 11. “If [Phoenix Beverage] were on Pier 11, then it wouldn’t be possible,” Fox said. “That’s the rub.”

Armstrong said Pier 7 was preferable, as it would give Phoenix closer truck access to the BQE, and “therefore less impact on the neighborhood”

But Phoenix vice president Greg Brayman said the point was moot.

“Pier 7 is not an available piece of property. Telling us we could put beer at Pier 7 is like telling us we could put beer in the Empire State Building,” he said.

Lannon noted, “We spoke to the Port Authority and were told that the pier is not available.” Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesperson said the agency is looking into the matter.

“It’s important to realize that this is the last working waterfront in New York,” Brayman continued. Plans that include the arrival of a beach and shops, Brayman inferred, are akin to “putting a mall on the Manhattan Bridge.”

Matt Yates, ASI’s director of commercial operations, had this response when asked about Pier 7: “We fully support the community board in their continued efforts to develop a comprehensive plan for maritime on the Brooklyn piers. We also believe that EDC’s pro-water-dependent policies at Atlantic Basin are a boon for the environment and for Brooklyn. As always, we stand by ready and willing to work with both the community board, EDC, Phoenix and other stakeholders in the development of a final plan which will best serve the common wheel.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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