Streetcar proposal gets mixed reception in Red Hook

Developers have already expressed interest in transforming Red Hook's waterfront

Sunghwan Yoon

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While Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal for a streetcar linking Brooklyn and Queens is appealing to many who find inter-borough travel a challenge, not everyone is thrilled with the idea. In a Sunday New York Times article, some Red Hook residents voiced apprehension about the suggested project, expressing concerns that a new transportation option would encourage development and an attendant rise in prices in the area.

The Brooklyn neighborhood has long been considered a transit desert; the nearest subway station is the Smith/Ninth Streets stop, a bit of a hike from most parts of Red Hook. Some, however, would prefer to keep it that way. The article quotes Dave Hill, a bartender at the legendary Sunny’s Bar, as saying “I’d prefer that this neighborhood just stay off the map.”

Those who are concerned about the neighborhood losing its under-the-radar quality—as well as its affordability—may be right to worry. The formerly industrial area is already on the map, thanks to the 2006 opening of Fairway and 2008 debut of IKEA attracting plenty of attention. It doesn’t hurt that a ferry runs from Wall Street’s Pier 11 to both stores, or that Fairway is at the end of Van Brunt Street, a busy thoroughfare dotted with restaurants, including the popular Red Hook Lobster Pound. In 2014, Real Estate Weekly predicted that Red Hook would be “the next hot neighborhood.”

And Red Hook’s waterfront may be set to undergo development not unlike the ones that have transformed Williamsburg and Greenpoint shorelines. Raft Architects has proposed a 1.1 million square foot complex for the Red Hook piers called Est4te Four, comprising manufacturing, retail, a hotel, and more. And luxury electric car company Tesla Motors is set to open its second retail location in Red Hook soon.

But from Red Hook residents without the means to pick up a Tesla, the proposed streetcar is getting a mixed reception. The Times article also quotes urban planning professor Tom Angotti, who notes that gentrification will be inevitable once the streetcar rolls into town, and in fact, city officials are counting on increasing property tax revenues to help pay for the project.

In addition to rising prices, engineers predict that the streetcar line would do away with a number of parking spaces, per DNAInfo, a potential downside for the many locals who depend on cars to get around. And, according to the Brooklyn Daily, several South Brooklyn politicians argue that the money for the streetcar—a projected $2.5 billion—would be better spent improving transportation already in place.

Meanwhile, other locals embrace change: Nick Defonte of Defonte’s Sandwich Shop said he thought the streetcar was a great idea, and didn’t miss the old days of Red Hook—which he recalled as crime-plagued—at all.

In any case, it will be a while until De Blasio’s streetcar rolls into town: Construction won’t begin for at least three years.


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