Could Sleepy Red Hook Really Be Transformed Into a Giant Mass of Skyscrapers?

Rendering via AECOM

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It’s bold. Bring the subway to Red Hook and build a forest of skyscrapers there. That’s the vision engineering firm AECOM released — seemingly out of the blue — in September and presented at a Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce-hosted event in Downtown Brooklyn in November.

If realized, the plan would dramatically transform the area, from a sleepy, funky backwater with Ikea and arts nonprofits to something shinier, denser and taller. Think Hudson Yards or Long Island City. But is it feasible?

red hook waterfront revitalization impact

View from the roof of 160 Imlay Street, overlooking Red Hook and beyond to Manhattan. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

A little background

Red Hook was once one of the most important shipping ports in the country, but when shipping industry jobs moved across the river to New Jersey, the neighborhood took a hit economically. Robert Moses’ construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in the 1950s cut off Red Hook from the rest of the borough.

red hook waterfront revitalization impacts

Rendering by AECOM

The lack of subway service has slowed development compared to elsewhere in Brooklyn, but Fairway opened in 2006 and Ikea opened in 2008. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated the neighborhood, and residents have been rebuilding over the past four years.

AECOM SVP for New York Chris Ward speaks. Photo by Sean Devlin

AECOM executive Chris Ward. Photo by Sean Devlin

Red Hook is changing more slowly than neighboring areas; it’s sleepier in nature and is dotted with redeveloped industrial spaces that are now residences, eateries, and artistic spaces. Recent developments have included new-construction townhouses, condo conversions and office developments, including a proposal by developer Est4te Four that seems to be stalled.

The proposal

AECOM’s vision is to remake Red Hook with subway service and residential skyscrapers on what is now City- and Port Authority-owned land. The public agencies would sell the land to private developers, who would put up a mix of approximately 30,000 to 50,000 market-rate and affordable units on the waterfront.

The 1 train would be extended with two new stops in Red Hook and a connection to the F and G trains at the 4th Avenue and 9th Street stop.

Rendering via AECOM

Map via AECOM

A pedestrian corridor called the Red Hook Rambla would connect the Red Hook Houses to the waterfront and new public green space. Flood protection such as coastal berms would be built along the waterfront; the BQX tracks would be raised to block flood waters.

red hook waterfront revitalization impacts

View from the top floor of the Red Hook Grain Terminal. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

Who are the proponents?

AECOM is an engineering firm that works on large-scale projects, including One World Trade Center, One Bryant Park, and the massive Crossrail project in London.

AECOM Senior Vice President and Chief Executive of Metro New York Chris Ward is a former Port Authority executive, which may explain the firm’s interest in Port Authority land. The firm says it’s not working with a developer, and the proposal is “just an idea.”

Rendering via AECOM

Rendering via AECOM

What AECOM wants

“We need to do something — we can’t just continue to sit here and let Red Hook be cut off,” Ward said at the November presentation.

Some of the benefits AECOM says its plan will bring to Red Hook is 2,500 to 15,700 new jobs as well as easier access to existing jobs via the new subway, $50 million to $130 million in new revenue for New York City, 6,250 to 11,250 new affordable housing units, and miles of streetscape improvements, waterfront access and coastal protection.

AECOM rendering

Map via AECOM

Who are the opponents

Most of the local residents, community organizations and politicians Brownstoner spoke to about the plan oppose it. Community Board 6 specifically declined comment because AECOM’s proposal is just an idea and not going through the public approval process known as ULURP.

What the opponents want

Groups such as the Red Hook Initiative support improved transportation to the neighborhood and flood protections, and specifically the BQX, which AECOM’s plan would integrate.

red hook waterfront revitalization impacts

Photo by Mary Hautman

Dan Goncharoff with Portside New York, another community organization involved with Brooklyn’s waterfront, expressed concern with luxury apartments walling off the neighborhood through construction of tall towers.

red hook waterfront revitalization impacts

Photo by Mary Hautman

Carolina Solguero, founder and president of Portside New York, which styles itself as a “living lab for urban waterways,” takes issue with what the plan would do to a working waterfront and lack of community knowledge on AECOM’s part.

“Good plans are based on deep knowledge of a place,” she told Brownstoner. “AECOM’s framework has errors about Red Hook history and Red Hook’s present. The framework also lacks understanding of waterways uses and of the stunning evolution in NYC waterfront planning embodied in Vision 2020, the comprehensive waterfront plan developed by City Planning after a year of community outreach. The AECOM plan eliminates all the maritime uses of Red Hook; uses well beyond the container port. That does not regional resiliency or sustainability make.”

Janet Andrews, community organizer for the New York City Council who works for local City Councilman Carlos Menchaca, expressed deep concern about the proposed development. “We’ve seen this before. My question remains, what will they do to help the community? We saw it with Sandy: $400 million dollars came through here, but where did it go? We can get Citi Bikes that no one asked for, but we haven’t had a grocery store in four years. What is this development going to do for us, the people who have lived in this community for years?”

“There are many pressing needs in this community,” she added. “Transportation is one, but we need to focus on finding jobs and building this neighborhood up. I know children who just want a basketball court, but there’s more time for people who want to build up that waterfront. If they want to get a real feel, they should spend time here and ask citizens about their concerns first.”

Five facts:

  • AECOM estimates the project will cost $3.5 billion to implement.
  • It would be bigger than Hudson Yards, which has 20,000 housing units.
  • It would bring 6,250 to 11,250 new affordable housing units to the area.
  • Port Authority is controlled by the states of New York and New Jersey.
  • The idea of selling off Brooklyn’s ports has been proposed before.
A delightful day of open studios in Red Hook, Brooklyn.... #openstudios#redhook #redhookopenstudios2016 #brooklyn

The bottom line

For the plan to be realized, New York City and Port Authority would have to decide to sell their property to private developers, and the land would have to be rezoned for residential development. Both steps would have to go through the public approval process known as ULURP. The state-controlled MTA would also have to decide to extend subway service to the area. So far, no city agencies or politicians have publicly come out in favor of the plan. (Port Authority, Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo’s offices did not return requests for comment.)

What do you think of the proposal?

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