The Star-Revue Red Hook wish list for 2014, by George Fiala

This year marks five years of publishing the Star-Revue. I did not grow up in Red Hook, nor did I live here for years and then decide to start a paper. It was shortly after moving my business from one side of the BQE that I realized the place I’d been avoiding for some many years is really where I should have been.Red Hook Sign

That realization came before the idea of starting a paper. But not much before. I was kind of surprised that a part of Brooklyn that really is community minded didn’t seem to have it’s own community publication. Hence this was.

It is by way of that introduction that I am attempting to say that these ideas are simply those of someone who has only relatively recently gotten to know the neighborhood – and I know there’s lots more to know. These are my ideas – these pages are always open to your ideas, via letters and op-eds.

OK – here we go:

1 – Real local government. The closest we have to a governing body is Community Board 6. While there is real local representation on the board, they also watch over Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus and Cobble Hill. They will hold hearings on local issues, but you’ve got to keep your eyes on their website (or our calendar), else you might miss something important.
The next rung of government is our local City Council member. Despite the recent fanfare, Red Hook represents only about 10% of District 38, and so by necessity, the councilmembers efforts are not solely on behalf of us. Then you have the Assembly and State Senate, Congress and US Senator – all covering more and more area, and less and less local.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a paid go-to person with regular hours whose job it is to see that Red Hook gets its due. A clearinghouse for city and state monies that are due us. An advocate for services. Maybe you could say that a neighborhood of 12,000 or so needs a full-time tribal leader, rather than the valiant volunteer efforts of people like Barry O’Meara and John McGettrick.

In addition to house our tribal leader, a local town hall could serve multiple needed purposes, such as our own historical society, a meeting place for organizations such as the Lion’s Club and the Civic Association, and a tourist information center.

2. A place for Carolina’s ship. We think that she has her ship berthed at the container port rent-free, however because of Homeland Security regulations, it is really hard to get to it. This is a problem when you want to run a ship museum, so could somebody please berth this ship?

3. A plan for the Revere Sugar land. This is the unused land that lies between the Beard Street buildings and IKEA. It once housed a sugar business owned by friends of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Revere went out of business in 1985, and the land was bought for what was then a real big number, around $40 million, by the rapacious Joe Sitt of Thor Equities. While Thor Equities has done real estate developments, they are also fond of using their vast cash horde to warehouse properties and then flip them as they become more strategically valuable. This was done most famously a few years back in Coney Island. When I think of Joe Sitt, I think of the Ferengi. Of course I have never met the man, who lives in Brooklyn and has properties the world over.

In any case, the guy, who according to Wikipedia named his company Thor because he was a fan of Marvel Comics, knows how to accumulate vast fortunes. That’s good for him but bad for Red Hook. That all that land is lying unused, probably waiting for a good flip, is holding back development in our little town.

What this newspaper is afraid of, however, is that someday something will happen to the property that we won’t like. It is zoned ‘as of right’ which means that whoever felt like it could open a cheesy shopping mall if they felt like it.

Our wish is that a local group get together and devise a real plan that would develop the area in a way that we would like. This would prepare us properly for an upcoming battle some day. A group of us could meet regularly, perhaps at our fantasy town hall, and do some urban planning ourselves. The Star-Revue likes to go to City Island in the Bronx – another area that is cut off from the rest of the borough and has its own charm. It has lots of Brooklyn Crab type places, and it has shore. We’d like something like that, and the land is big enough to accommodate other ideas as well.

4. Funding for the RED HOOK sign, at Van Brunt and Hamilton Avenue. As you can tell from our cover, we ran into Pete the Balloon Man last weekend at Fairway and this is really his idea.

First of all, let me say that lots of people ask me why the sign is out, and until recently I had no idea why it is out, and how it got there in the first place. Pete told me that it was originally an idea of Phaedra Thomas’, back when she was with SBIDC. She had asked Pete about putting up a big sign there, with lots more verbiage than just Red Hook. He was asked to design and put them up but there was no actual budget. I think he told me that it was Jim Tampakis that donated white light bulbs, and someone else gave him $26 for coffee.

Seems that the white lights were not a hit, and so he created another sign alongside it, but this time using red bulbs. Perhaps Jim donated the red bulbs.

The last time the sign was out, Amy Haimerl started a paypal campaign and raised $600 for Pete to refurbish it. That was in 2009. John McGettrick has taken responsibility for the sign these days, but it’s all a volunteer effort all around.

Pete says it’s not easy to maintain that sign. I will say that way before I ever made that left on Van Brunt (going instead to the House of Pizza for lunch), I knew that sign – it’s kind of a landmark.

We need to pay Pete for his time and supplies, and he’ll keep it lit. He has other ideas as well, which maybe we’ll get to in another article some day. In any case, funding for the Red Hook sign is our wish. It could occur in a number of ways – a grant from SBIDC or someplace else, a Kickstarter campaign, organized fundraising along the Van Brunt retail strip. We think the best way would be for ReStore Red Hook to complete their morphology and become a Van Brunt Street merchant association, with dues and if they feel like it, continued fundraising. With a treasury, they could budget a couple thousand or so for the annual upkeep of a Red Hook icon.

5. A museum, one on land. Somewhere in Red Hook should be a museum devoted to our history as a maritime community. There’s lots of history here, as well as maritime history in general. What we need is someone who knows all about Red Hook’s past to be the driver of a movement towards a museum. We need a place to house a museum, perhaps in the thriving commercial area we are planning after throwing Thor Equities out of Red Hook.
It turns out that City Island has such a museum as I am thinking about. No need to reinvent the wheel…


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