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A Brooklyn Waterfront That Works

graving dock brooklyn sept 2007

A Civil War-era graving dock, along with associated high-wage jobs, are threatened on Brooklyn’s waterfront if current plans for an Ikea store proceed. But alternative plans commissioned by the Municipal Art Society show that the new development can coexist with the historic structures and the working waterfront.

In 2004, the MAS learned that five significant buildings and a ship-repair graving dock in Red Hook were in jeopardy. The National Register-eligible structures, some dating to 1866, were set for demolition to make way for the store’s parking lot.

Demolition of the buildings on the site began in late December 2004, despite the fact that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had not even begun to review Ikea’s plans. The Army Corps is obligated to review the impact of the proposal under provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act. By the summer of 2006, the five buildings had been leveled and the debris removed.

While the graving dock has obvious historic significance, it was also a functioning piece of maritime infrastructure until it was shut down in February 2005. It is one of only two docks in New York Harbor that can accommodate large, tall ships. The cost to build a new dock would run to hundreds of millions of dollars. If the 710-foot dock is filled in and paved over, maritime capacity in New York will be forever diminished and waterfront jobs will be lost permanently.

Convinced that new buildings and big boats can coexist, the MAS turned to Preservation Committee member Harold Fredenburgh, AIA, a skilled architect of tall commercial buildings with a wealth of experience in accommodating parking structures in difficult sites. Fredenburgh developed two alternative site plans that would allow Ikea to construct its store and provide ample parking while preserving the graving dock and the jobs. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery and City Councilman David Yassky, all representing Brooklyn, have voiced support for the MAS plans.

To keep our waterborne regional transportation network afloat and our maritime industry competitive, we need places to repair ships. To maintain a sense of place in our historic neighborhoods, we must preserve significant structures. The MAS has shown that these goals are not mutually exclusive. We have called on Ikea to review our alternatives, rethink its plans and respond in a way that balances the twin goals of smart development and thoughtful preservation.

The article was originally published in March 2005 and was updated in November 2006. MAS Preservation Committee member Harold Fredenburgh developed the two alternative site plans.