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

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...