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Ahoy! Give us a marina! - EDC looks to attract new development on the waterfront

If Red Hook’s waterfront is to one day become a postcard-perfect, maritime-themed destination area, it might be nice if a marina actually sets up shop there. That’s what the city’s Economic Development Corporation is hoping, at least. With that in mind, the EDC, which is guiding a bold but contentious plan that could shape the future of Piers 7-12, released this week a request for proposals (RFP) for the development and operation of a marina in Atlantic Basin, a 17-acre body of water bounded by Piers 10-12. The site includes some 600,000 square feet in the marine basin and 250,000 square feet at the northern end of Per 11. Besides a marina, the EDC said it was looking for uses such as maritime support services, including marine repair and refitting; boar sales; dry dock storage and fueling facilities. “Preference will be given to proposals that maximize public access to Atlantic Basin and improve the waterfront experience for visitors and residents, as well as those that include an integrated job apprenticeship or vocational training program for local residents,” according to the EDC. The RFP comes after the EDC issued a request for expressions of interest (RFEI) in June, a less formal procedure that was intended to allow the agency to gauge interest in the area and identify potential uses here. Joshua Sirefman, EDC’s interim president, said the positive responses to the RFEI “reinforced our confidence in the potential for a variety of maritime uses for this portion of Red Hook waterfront.” This year the city hopes to regain control of the piers and EDC officials have said they plan to work with the current landlord, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, to determine which types of tenants make sense. The plan has rankled those who say that the container port, which occupies Piers 7-10, is a vital economic driver. “We are looking for maritime support and services that will complement our vision for maritime cargo and cruise uses in the area,” Sirefman said. Carolina Salguero, director of PortSide NewYork, a waterfront themed organization with a strong emphasis on the maritime industry, responded to the RFEI, but said she will probably not do so with the RFP. “It’s very specifically targeted toward a marina,” she said. “This RFP appears to address only a subset of the space and the EDC’s vision of the space.” Since August, Salguero’s group has been in the possession of the 172-foot-long tanker Mary Whalen, which one day might hold an exhibition hall, space for functions, and small shops. “We would fit in with the new Atlantic Basin or the old,” she said. The EDC will hold a site visit on Monday, Jan. 29 at 11 a.m. Responses to the document, available at www.nycedc.com/RFP, are due no later than 4 p.m. on Feb. 20, 2007. Beyond the RFP, what does the new year hold for Piers 7-12? Kate Ascher, EDC’s executive vice president for infrastructure told this newspaper that, “Our strategy is to pursue an array of maritime uses for the piers that will thrive and work well with the surrounding communities.” “Our vision for the Port of Brooklyn is to create a place where maritime cargo and passengers mix seamlessly with maritime support industries and civic and community uses.” “The most important element of our plan is job creation.” She continued, “Today, the port supports about 500 full and part-time jobs, mainly at the container terminal and the new cruise terminal. We intend to not only retain these jobs, but to also create new jobs through the introduction of new maritime-dependant, job-intensive uses.” Matt Yates, the director of commercial operations for American Stevedoring Inc., (ASI), operators of the container port on Piers 7-10, was not heartened by Ascher’s comments. “Yet again, it has taken millions of dollars and a year of lost opportunity while the city is asleep at the switch and locked in inertia for them to reach the simple conclusion: cruise and containers can co-exist and the container port must stay,” Yates said. The container port’s lease expires in April. “The Port Authority has already said they will not renew the lease. We think we have better, and higher uses for those piers,” EDC spokesperson Janel Patterson said. The EDC has told this paper that the terminal currently supports about 133 full time jobs on about 80 acres. Yates said the EDC’s “credibility on jobs with regard to this issue is in shreds.” “They have consistently misrepresented the number of jobs at Pier 12, and cite a false numbers for the container port,” Yates said. “Here again we see another inconsistency, they keep citing different numbers depending on what argument they are making,” Yates said. Back in 2003, the city helped pay for a similar study that weighed the future of the piers. Change was not a outgrowth of that particular plan. Critics note that elements of the current plan—namely the waterfront’s conversion into a tourist attraction complete with restaurants, a hotel, shops and other family-friendly amenities—seem to have taken a backseat to a renewed emphasis on job creation and maritime uses. One aspect of the plan, the construction of housing on the western side of Columbia Street, was recently scrapped, following resounding criticism EDC officials literally could not ignore. Yates called the EDC’s plan “an albatross.” “It seems that EDC is now getting the message, but it is however slightly regrettable that it took a panel of experts, the community, and elected officials…for the EDC to prick up their ears,” he added.

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