A Real "Post" (the Imlay Affair)
Things have been a bit busy so I haven't had time to post anything beyond the Weekend Happenings, but since its Friday and all, I figure I'll take a minute to write a bit more.
I suppose the biggest story in the neighborhood these days is the future of 160 Imlay. 160 Imlay, and its sister building, 62 Imlay, are the two hulking structures just south of the entrance to the Red Hook Container Port Facilty at Hamilton Avenue. 160 Imlay, the more southern of the two, is currently under renovation. Both buildings were part of the New York Dock Company operations which operated from about 1901 till around 1955. The Imlay Street buildings appear to have been built around 1913. By 1939 they were "part of the two and one-half miles of Brooklyn waterfront owned by the New York Dock Company whose railroad sheds, warehouses, and massive gray loft buildings extend between the water front and the marginal streets from Brooklyn Bridge to Red Hook." (The WPA Guide to New York City, 1939). The Imlay Street buildings front the Atlantic Basin, which was second to the larger and better equipped Erie Basin just a bit down the road. Most recently the buildings were used as a distribution point for a Mercedes Books and Publishing, which I believe is no longer in business. Neither building was ever used for manufacturing as far as I know. So the long and the short is that BSA accepted the variance request.
From what I understand, both buildings were purchased in 2000 by a group of investors headed by Bruce Federman. The City's Board of Standards and Appeals granted Federman and his partners a variance exemption last year, allowing mixed residential and commercial use of the buildings. Word was that the buildings would be luxury condominiums with commercial space on the ground floor. The variance ruling was very controversial at the time. Going into the proceedings it looked likely that the variance request would be rejected. The ultimate judgement of the BSA seemed to rest on the technical appropriateness of the buildings for modern manufacturing and warehousing. The owners argued that the ceilings on the building were too low, that there were pillars throughout the building that prevented modern warehousing, and that wasn't enough truck access. In the end they accepted the variance request more on the basis of the physical quality of the building rather than its 'marketability' as commercial real estate. Its an interesting argument from a preservationist stand-point in that the claim is that in order to preserve the buildings in anything that even resembles their shape requires recognizing that they are no longer physically appropriate for their original use. Either way, the variance was granted and work was begun.
More recently, the Red Hook - Gowanus Chamber of Commerce filed a suit agains the BSA, arguing that the variance was improperly awarded. The case has been argued more or less throughout the year. A decision was expected in November, but that was pushed back until December. Although, she didn't make a decision at that time, the judge did put a restraining order on the renovation work at that time. In the most recent action, Judge Lewis issued a preliminary injunction against all work at the site. According to the Courier (which has very good coverage of the whole process), the preliminary injuction makes it likely that the judge will find against the developers. A final determination was to have been made today, so the word should come down soon.
No matter where you stand on this, its a big issue for Red Hook. Should the variance hold, this project will result in a significant influx of new residents for the neighborhood. I'll go out on the limb and say that this part of the project has a certain amount of appeal for me. You might have noticed that I spend a certain amount of time plugging local businesses. There are a lot of people who have invested in this neighborhood and have opened nice businesses - LaNell's Wine Shop, the Red Hook Pet Provisions, Hiupiles Mexican restaurant, Luce Boutique, the Red Hook Cafe, Bait and Tackle, and the Old Pioneer... And there are some older businesses like DeFonte's Sandwich shop, Sunny's and Lilly's, and even 360 and Hope & Anchor. I'd like to see these businesses do well. I suspect that an influx of new people may help these folks along. But that doesn't mean that I'm insentitive to the real issues of gentrification... There are good arguments to be made on both sides, and I'll encourage people to make those arguments in the comments section.
In the future I'll try to post a bit more on the larger issues of gentrification in Red Hook. Whatever feedback that comes into the comments section will find its way into those posts.