A waterfront blog about Red Hook, Brooklyn. From Columbia Street to the Van Brunt Stores and from Valentino Pier to Red Hook Rec Center.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Goodbye to Guyville

Well, this is it. We've moved out of Red Hook. I probably should of written this in the sentimental flush of the week of the actual move, or sometime before that while I was still in Red Hook, soaking in its ambiance (for lack of a better word), but there was just too much going on. So now its two or three weeks on, and we're well out of Red Hook. Sentimentalities have faded, and my inclination is to look forward to figuring out the new neighborhood rather than reflecting on the old.

But I told myself I'd make one last post, so here it is. Yeah, Red Hook was/is Guyville. To the point of sometimes making me wonder. I mean, jeez, some of the locals were the classic "more interested in their cars than their girlfriends" kind of guys. Of the various Red Hook characters walking the streets, its got to be two to one guys. And doing all the guy things, whether they were tricking out their cars, or hanging out in one of the multiple neighborhood clubhouses, these were guys. Of course there are a couple of ladies that stuck out of the crowd, mostly the nice ladies of the Red Hook Ladies Club. They have their own clubhouse - for those of you in the neighborhood who couldn't figure it out, that sort of store with the great pane glass window on Van Brunt near Sullivan, where they set up the holiday decorations in the lot next door, that's the Red Hook Ladies Club. Mostly they're affiliated with Visitation, B.V.M. Visitation is, of course, the beautiful old Catholic Church by Coffey park. One of my favorite memories of Red Hook will no doubt be Visitation covered in snow late on the night of the big January snow storm last year. With the snow on the church and in the park and in the street, too fresh to have been plowed, you could have been in one of the old upstate post-industrial towns. Hell, it could have been Bedford Falls. But it was beautiful.

I always wanted to post about Visitation. For all the angst about the newcomers and the old timers and the gentrifiers and preserving this old factory or that old piece of the working waterfront, not much got said about Visitation. If anyplace was an institution down in Red Hook, Visitation was and is. Of all the places we frequented - the bars, the stores and the restaurants - very few really gave you a chance to meet the rest of the neighborhood like Visitation did. I'm not going to say much about it. It gave me an insight into the neighborhood that I wouldn't have had, and that you can't get from most other places. Stop by, take a look at the stained glass. If you own one of the newer businesses on Van Brunt, do them a favor and put an ad in their church bulletin - seriously, they need the help and its important to a lot of the people in the neighborhood.

But why leave?, you must be asking. Ah, the rent was raised, you probably figure, bitten on the ass by our own gentrification. No, we just found ourselves in a position to look for something more permanent and there's not much available in Red Hook. We couldn't afford, and didn't want a house, and there are no co-ops, and few condos for sale. Besides that, lets be honest, Red Hooks got its problems. I won't go into them because its not my problem at this point, and far be for me to badmouth someone else's neighborhood.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Williamsburg, Shmilliamsburg

From an article in yesterday's NY Times lamenting the intrusion of market forces into Williamsburg:

"...she was awakened by the sound of cars burning in the street outside; she said thieves would bring the cares there, strip them, and set them afire to dispose of them."

Hey! I've only been in Red Hook for a year and a half or so and I remember this happening here. Maybe 'cause the last time it happened was a couple of months ago!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Ikea, the Graving Docks, and the US Army Corps of Engineers

Just a bit of an up-date... it looks like something is happening at the Ikea site. A visit to the area today reveals that the blue wooden construction wall now goes all the way from Halleck St to the end of the site, the length of about three blocks or so. The demolition appears to be handled by a local Red Hook company, Breeze Demolition. Despite that, there's definitely nothing happening at the Ikea Red Hook website. Its been registered as "temporarily unavailable" for some time now.

The movement on the demolition seems to have been triggered by the decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to authorize Ikea's building related to the waterfront. Interestingly according to the Environment News Service, "Prior to construction IKEA is required to submit a detailed plan to the Corps and NYSHPO, showing how construction activities will be done in a manner that avoids impacts to the historic Graving Dock No. 2. The Corps and NYSHPO must approve that plan prior to initiating any construction." (This matches what I read on the actual news release from the Corps website, but for some reason the site won't come up today. Go figure.) I haven't seen anything from the Municpal Arts Society, or any of the other groups fighting for the protection of the Graving Dock, so I don't know if this represents a victory or not. It could be that as far as the Corps is concerned, filling in the Dock without actually destroying it represents an effort to "avoid impact".

On a side note, one way or the other, as far as I can tell this is all a little confused anyway. According to the history of the Todd Shipyards, Every Kind of Shipwork, by Bradford Mitchell, Graving Dock #2 was filled in back in 1976, and Graving Dock #1 was still active as of 1981 when the book was written. Mitchell's account of the docks is pretty thorough. Both Graving Docks were dug in 1866 by James Simpson. Simpson didn't own the docks at that point, but he eventually took over them over by sublease in 1884. Simpson was originally from Boston, and the docks were known as the "Boston Docks". The steam pumps that drained the docks were buried over in 1943. (They are probably still down there.) Graving Dock #2 was the site of the construction of whatever "Landing Craft, Infrantry" that were built in Red Hook for World War II. Only 24 were built here, and that was early in the program. These 24 were built here only because the New Jersey plant that was the main site was not yet up to full cabilities by 1944.

So there ya go... I'll post again in about 3 or 4 months.

Friday, November 18, 2005

What's up with the weird spam comments?!?

Okay, I hadn't posted in a long time and I'm reluctant to get back into the blogging and all, but what the hell is up with the blog comment spam? I suspect that its a way to bump sites up the Google rankings? Does anyone know if this is true? How can it be stopped? Also, is there a clever term for it yet, like spam? Maybe like Blam or something?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Long Lost Redhooky

This isn't a re-start of Redhooky, but since 160 Imlay came up on Curbed today I thought I'd throw out an update.

The brief recap... or the story so far:

Initially the 160 Imlay's developer applied for a variance on the industrial / manufacturing zoning. The Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) approved the variance. The Red Hook Gowanus Chamber of Commerce (RHGCC) sued the BSA for making an impropoper variance. The case languished for a while and until the BSA motioned to have the thing dismissed because the RHGCC didn't list Imaly (the building's owners) as a party to the suit. The Supreme Court denied the motion, but the Appellate Court granted it, dismissing the case. The RHGCC appealed the dismissal, and that's where we've been for awhile.

So... On Oct. 25, the State of NY court of appeals reversed the dismissal. I won't go into why... you can read it yourself at:

2 No. 168
In the Matter of Red Hook/
Gowanus Chamber of Commerce,
New York City Board of Standards
and Appeals, et al.,

So there it sits for another winter, watched by a couple of tough German Shepherds and an abandoned, or, more likely, stolen Mercedes.

In more interesting, or at least better news, the Fifth Avenue Committee has moved forward on Red Hook Homes, a mixed income project that will provide about 60 owner occupied units. The project is centered around the construction site on Wolcott between Van Brunt and Richards, across from Daly School and around the corner from Hope and Anchor.

So despite this not being a restart of Redhooky, maybe I'll renew the postings. As long as I stick to just posting info and not trying to write my take on things it may not be a problem. Truth is I don't really have the time to put into it.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Imlay is a Go... and the rise of Social Democracy in Red Hook

So Imlay is a go. I've said before that I think the Imlay St. project is probably a good idea, so I'm glad to see this move forward. It will be welcome news for lots of the small shop owners in the area. It will also bring in some new residents that will probably change the local political consituency in a way that will get the city's attention on occasion - i.e. we'll be getting rich neighbors with connections. Yes, its a problem that money plays such a role in politics (in NY and nationally) and when the revolution comes they'll be the first ones against the wall, but until then I'd like some stop signs, I'd like to see the area around P.S. 15 made into a School Zone, and I'd like to see some repaving going on here and there.

There was also a good interview with Greg O'Connell on the Center for an Urban Future's website. O'Connell comes across well. I don't know him, but he does have a good reputation, and he sounds reasonable in the interview. I know he was involved in funding the lawsuit against the Imlay Street project. I'm curious to see if he and Batkin put aside their differences now and start to cooperate, or if they jack up the competition. I'm waiting for the announcement that the ground floor of 160 Imlay will be a D'Agastino's or a Gourmet Garage.

In the course of O'Connell's interview he talks about the Ikea project and highlights the differences between Ikea and some of the other big box stores. This is an important point. There is a tendency to group large retailers together and in particular to put them all in the Wal-Mart category. This is a real mistake. On the face of it they may seem alike, but they really do run on very different business models, particularly in their labor relations. Within their stores Ikea has a very good reputation as an employer - lowest turnover in the industry, best employee benefits, higher than average wages. See this article about Ikea's St. Paul, Minnesota operation. Wal-Mart has the opposite reputation - highest turnover, benefits so low as to impose huge costs on public welfare programs, and wages that depress local job markets. The Christian Science Monitor currently has a piece on Wal-Mart, but there's a ton of stuff critical of the Wal-Mart model out there. Considering where the two companies come from - Swedish social democracy vs. the traditionally hostile to organized labor US South - this is hardly suprising. Where Ikea has had more problems is in the overseas suppliers. To their credit, they have cooperated with organized labor to address some of their supplier problems.

Painting all large retailers as the same is potentially a very big mistake. Ikea may well be a better deal than it seemed. Who knows, they may even end up as a sort of trojan horse for social democracy in the USA? How great would that be?!?

Workers of the World Unite.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Red Hook's leaky bubble... ?

There is an awful lot going on these days in and around Red Hook. I've been a bit slack to post, and tonight's post won't be very long, but hey... this blogging thing is just a bit on the side, y'know.

Anyway, the most interesting thing in terms of Red Hook-in-the-news is probably the Brooklyn Papers' interview with Doctoroff regarding waterfront development. Doctoroff basically confirmed that the city is most interested in moving the industrial shipping center of Brooklyn south towards Sunset Park. Despite being pretty clear about Sunset Park though, he wasn't all too specific on what the city wanted to see happen with the piers north of the cruise ship terminals. My guess is that if you take a look at the Brooklyn Bridge Park controversies over ever increasing housing, and at the Williamsburg / Greenpoint residential rezoning, you can probably figure out what's on the boards - more housing. I read someplace that you should never buy a place in New York for the view. Those of you that look out from Columbia Street over Governors Island and the East River might want to mull that one over.

But as for current development... I've been doing a bit of a dogwalker's survey of the neighborhood... day after day, walking the same routes, seeing what's going on or not. What I'm seeing says that maybe the Red Hook part of the bubble is leaking just a bit. There are a number of places, up and down Van Brunt, and deeper onto the side streets that have either had for sale or for rent signs for a suspiciously long time. At least one decent sized apartment building on Van Brunt has been renovated and empty for more than a three months now. Word is they were just asking too much. And one Red Hook listing on Craig's List has seen a couple of drops in the asking price. Financial bubbles operate on unrealistic expectations. If real declines in the rental market cause investment buyers to have to readjust their revenue expectations, prices may begin to stall. Hmmm...