The Bloomberg administration, which has long advocated phasing out the container port in Brooklyn to make way for more residential-friendly development, may decide to keep the shipping facility there after all.
Ironically, the latest reprieve comes not from Governor Spitzer, a Democrat who many port advocates thought would jump to their side, but from the very same people who had been trying to recalibrate the use of the piers for the past four years: the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Or rather, not from the same people, but a new set of executives who recently came into office there.
In January, Robert Lieber, a former managing director for Lehman Brothers, became president of the E.D.C., filling a spot that Andrew Alper vacated the previous spring. Around the same time, the E.D.C.’s project manager for Red Hook, Kate Ascher, left. Last month, she was replaced by Madelyn Wils, the former president of the Tribeca Film Festival and a community leader from Lower Manhattan.
“We are looking for a long-term plan for the Brooklyn waterfront and that is something that Bob Lieber has asked us to do,” said Ms. Wils, the new executive vice president for planning and development. “I understand there is a lot of history here and I’m just trying to look at this, along with our whole team, with a fresh set of eyes.”
But the battle is far from over for American Stevedoring Inc., the shipping operator that revived the container port in the 1990’s and that has more recently staved off condominium conversion through a mixture of savvy public relations, strategic campaign contributions, lawsuits and its record of providing numerous union jobs.
Ms. Wils said that the agency was considering keeping the container port but inviting bids from other companies as well as from American Stevedoring.
“We haven’t made any firm decisions but we are certainly looking at putting out an RFEI for a container port,” Ms. Wils said, referring to a request for expressions of interest. That would mean that other shipping operators could get a shot.
“We want to see what the market is, to test the waters and see if we can create a market that is looking at delivering goods to the east and north of Red Hook and not necessarily to the west,” Ms. Wils said.
ONE OF THE INEFFICIENCIES OF the port is that, while Red Hook is the only container port on the east side of New York Harbor, cargo is sometimes sent back over to New Jersey or Staten Island by barge because there are better distribution channels on that side.
In the past, both the Bloomberg administration and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the piers, played down the idea that Red Hook would ever amount to anything. The container port there is much smaller than the region’s other ports on Staten Island and in New Jersey, and it lacks any rail connection or much upland storage space, necessitating the use of barges.
The city, meanwhile, became worried when it began losing cruise ship business to New Jersey, and decided that the deep Red Hook harbor could supplement the terminal on Manhattan’s West Side. In 2003, the E.D.C. and the Port Authority began holding community meetings and hiring consultants, which suggested including as many as 3,600 units of housing on the site, up to three cruise ships berths and other uses.