"Why Red Hook Ikea Project Should be Rejected," Guest Opinion by Mary Campbell Gallagher. In The Brooklyn Papers, October 2, 2004, p. 6.
Dream that you are flying over New York harbor three years from now, in September of 2007. Ahead are the sparkling towers of lower Manhattan. To your left, the Statue of Liberty raises her flaming torch 395 feet above the water, a symbol of America. But what is this? On the Brooklyn waterfront to your right there has arisen a vast new structure as big as five football fields, bearing the blue and yellow colors of the Swedish flag. Thousands of cars head towards the 1,500 cars already parked there.
Unfortunately, that giant blue box with yellow lettering is a symbol, too, just like Lady Liberty. It is not a symbol of America’s hope and greatness, however, but of New York City’s desperation. For on September 8, 2004, the City Planning Commission voted to sell out our peerless New York City waterfront to a Scandinavian company named Ikea.
Yes, it is a nightmare. But wake up! We are still in 2004. New Yorkers can still tell the City Council to save the Brooklyn waterfront from being obliterated by suburban sprawl.
Ikea’s only argument for its gigantic tax-subsidized store is this: There will be jobs for the residents of Red Hook Houses, a public housing project.
Ikea’s reps have divided the community: the residents of Red Hook Houses, who are largely African-American, from their neighbors who have refurbished dilapidated structures.
The activist Red Hook Civic Association, which has saved Red Hook from previous urban disasters including garbage transfer stations, says that Ikea will force 50,000 cars a week down through the narrow cobblestone streets of Red Hook to the waterfront.
Questions that the City Planning
Commission has failed to ask Ikea.
QUESTION. Exactly how many unemployed people live in the Red Hook Houses?
ANSWER. According to the Department of City Planning web site: 569.*
QUESTION. How many jobs in large retail stores does Red Hook have available right now?
ANSWER. According to John McGettrick, co-chairman of the Red Hook Civic Association, there already are or soon will be more than a thousand retail jobs within walking distance of Red Hook Houses. Employee turnover in retail is 40 to 60 per cent a year, so retail jobs are abundant.
QUESTION. If New York City permits Ikea’s tax-subsidized store on the waterfront, how many jobs will Ikea promise to Red Hook’s residents?
ANSWER. None. Not even one.
QUESTION. What does Ikea promise?
ANSWER. Ikea promises only that it will consider applications from Brooklyn’s 1-1-2-3-1 zip code two weeks earlier than other applications.
QUESTION. Ikea says it will offer "close to 600" jobs in Red Hook. In its just-opened New Haven store, however, Ikea has only 350 employees in a 311,000-square-feet store. Why would Ikea need 600 employees in a store in Brooklyn with 346,000 square feet? Lots of greeters?
ANSWER. Silence. There is no answer to this question.
QUESTION. Does Ikea offer employee benefits?
ANSWER. Ikea offers employee benefits, including health benefits and tuition reimbursement, BUT the majority of Ikea’s employees will work fewer than 20 hours per week, and they will get no benefits for six months. Considering the high turn-over in retail, Ikea may never pay even one worker from Red Hook Houses any benefits at all.
QUESTION. Won’t Ikea destroy other jobs in Red Hook?
ANSWER. Building the Ikea store will destroy 80 to 100 jobs on the Erie Basin. Hundreds of other jobs in Red Hook will be imperiled by the streets’ being clogged with traffic.
QUESTION. Isn’t it an open secret that big box stores like Ikea do not create retail jobs, they destroy jobs?
In fact, there is a slight bump up in retail employment after a big box store opens, but within a year, the total number of employees drops, to a figure lower than would have been anticipated given statewide economic growth. A big box store puts local stores out of business, and then it needs fewer employees to sell the same amount of goods.
QUESTION. So will a big box store in Red Hook help or hurt the community?
ANSWER. Hurt it.
Questions for opponents.
QUESTION. How would Ikea affect the Brooklyn waterfront?
ANSWER. Ikea will degrade the Brooklyn waterfront with suburban sprawl, with more parking lots, traffic, pollution, and big box stores, and less of the lively variety we expect on city streets.
QUESTION. What is the best use for the Red Hook waterfront?
ANSWER. In 1996, the City Planning Commission approved Red Hook’s community-originated plan, called a 197-a plan. As Antonia Bryson, attorney for one Red Hook coalition, emphasizes, the plan seeks to improve the pedestrian environment, capitalize on Red Hook’s historic resources, and support maritime activity. The Baltimore firm of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse has proposed a beautiful mixed-use project for Red Hook that is consistent with the 197-a plan. It emphasizes maritime, commercial and residential uses. It is an urban, not suburban, plan, it will result in city growth in surrounding blocks and more jobs than Ikea.
* * *
Ikea’s only argument for putting a store on New York harbor is that it may possibly provide jobs for the residents of Red Hook Houses. Even if that were true, which is doubtful, and even if those jobs were not available elsewhere, as they in fact are are, Ikea would still not have any real argument. In order to provide a few jobs for Red Hook Houses should New York allow a tax-subsidized big box store to blight the New York City waterfront?
New Rochelle recently rejected Ikea, as did Somerville, Massachusetts, and Gowanus, Brooklyn.
The City Council will hold a public hearing on October 5. It will have until October 30 to act. Tell the City Council that for Ikea to degrade the New York City waterfront is a nightmarish mistake.