- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — Red Hook once was known best for gunplay and graft, a half-vacant urban wasteland along the Brooklyn waterfront where the mob ruled the docks, and crack took over the projects.

“When people were looking for a place where they could shoot someone and knock ‘em in the water, they came to Red Hook,” said developer Greg O’Connell.

Today, the burly ex-cop is building luxury apartments and a $10 million gourmet supermarket in the neighborhood whose violence and union corruption inspired “On the Waterfront” and “Last Exit to Brooklyn” in the 1950s and ‘60s. Down the street, Ikea hopes to sell contemporary sofas and lingonberry preserves from a 22-acre superstore on an old dry dock.

Brooklyn’s waterfront is on the verge of historic change.

From lumberyards to coffee piers, the last remnants of the once-mighty working waterfront are disappearing. In their place, thousands of high-end apartments, dozens of acres of parkland and berths for the world’s biggest cruise ships are rising.

“Most of the change in the city over the next five, 10 years is going to take place along the Brooklyn shore,” said Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society, a nonprofit urban planning and preservation group. “It’s the biggest opportunity to remake the city in over 100 years.”

A $30 million terminal for the Queen Elizabeth 2 and other luxury liners is set to open a short distance from Mr. O’Connell’s new supermarket, which will have 50 types of fresh bread and 500 kinds of cheese. The lease on the last cargo-handling port on the Brooklyn waterfront expires in 2007.

Six other piers are set to become part of an 80-acre park that city and state officials hope to fund by letting developers build luxury town houses, apartments, a hotel and stores inside it.

Nearby, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a remake of “The Producers” was shot on a new soundstage complex.

And in once-gritty Greenpoint and Williamsburg, home to Polish immigrants and hipsters, the City Council this month rezoned 175 blocks to allow 40-story luxury apartment towers, new stores and 54 acres of park space, including an aquatic center that is part of New York’s 2012 Olympics bid.

“It’s become SoHo II,” said Steve Glazer, the third-generation owner of a Williamsburg steel company.

The waterfront transformation is making some Brooklynites unhappy.

Residents, business owners and preservationists complain that the city is handing the waterfront to developers and the ultra-rich, destroying jobs, affordable housing and the legacy of what was once the world’s busiest harbor.

Architect Sean Tracy moved his studio to Williamsburg eight years ago when Manhattan’s East Village became too trendy and expensive. That is happening again. Real estate speculation has prices soaring, and the old candle factory where Mr. Tracy designs high-end metal stairs and railings is being converted to pricey condos.

“They have told us we’re on borrowed time,” Mr. Tracy said. “Everybody’s feeling the squeeze.”

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