Beer Distributor Makes a Deal to Move to Two Piers in Red Hook

February 11, 2009 at 8:28 pm Leave a comment

One of the city’s largest beer distributors has reached a tentative agreement to move to two piers on the waterfront in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where the distributor, stevedores and government officials hope to revive and expand once-bustling cargo operations.

Phoenix Beverages, which distributes Heineken, Guinness, Brooklyn Beer, Smirnoff Ice and other brands, plans to move its operations from Long Island City, Queens, and Elizabeth, N.J., to Pier 7, at the foot of Atlantic Avenue, and nearby Pier 11 at Atlantic Basin, which the city leases from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The company said it expected to unload about 20,000 containers a year from freighters.

“This will be a real boon for port commerce in Brooklyn and the region,” said Representative Jerrold L. Nadler, a longtime advocate for expanded maritime operations in Brooklyn. “It will save and grow high-wage jobs, keep a key New York company here in New York where it belongs, and stabilize and expand critical container port operations at Red Hook.”

American Stevedoring, which operates Piers 7 though 10, said that Phoenix would serve as an anchor and help attract additional cargo ships bearing goods bound for New York, Long Island and Westchester County.

Currently, American Stevedoring handles only a fraction of the cargo coming into New York Harbor and much of that is put on barges and sent to warehouses on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. Company executives said the deal would lead to an increase in New York-bound cargo and more jobs.

Phoenix, which employs about 600 drivers and warehouse workers, had considered moving all operations to New Jersey. The company reached an agreement on Tuesday with American Stevedoring as well as the Port Authority, the city’s Economic Development Corporation and Mr. Nadler.

The deal would put to rest, at least for several years, the Bloomberg administration’s one-time plan to buff the gritty Red Hook waterfront to a shine with new marinas, luxury housing, brew pubs and cruise ship terminals.

The city, along with the Port Authority, had sought for years to oust American Stevedoring from the Red Hook piers, and American Stevedoring sued the Port Authority. Last year, the company blocked an attempt by the city to turn Pier 7 over to Phoenix.

But in April, American Stevedoring, with Mr. Nadler’s backing, negotiated a 10-year extension of its lease. Since then, American Stevedoring has been trying to rebuild the business it says it lost during its battle with the city and the Port Authority. Pier 7, which was once the largest cocoa pier in the country, has been largely shuttered. The company, now completing its new lease, is ending its lawsuit.

Sabato Catucci, chief executive of American Stevedoring, said his company and Phoenix had formed a strategic partnership to work with food distributors and shippers to “expand port operations” in Red Hook. The challenge will be to convince shippers that there is enough of a demand for cargo bound for New York.

Under the agreement, an estimated 10 million to 12 million cases of beer would be unloaded annually at Pier 11 and stored in the warehouses there and at Pier 7. City officials said there were also plans for public access to the waterfront and perhaps a beach at Pier 11, which sits opposite the cruise ship terminal at Pier 12.

“The Port Authority is committed to working with our partners to bring job-intensive uses to our facilities, while ensuring stable revenue,” said Christopher O. Ward, executive director of the Port Authority. “This project will accomplish both of these goals.”

But not everyone in the often contentious Red Hook neighborhood embraces the tentative deal. The community board and others had criticized a recent city plan to move Phoenix to Pier 11, saying the truck traffic would be unbearable. They favored a proposal from New York Water Taxi to build a base for its ferries, a marina, a beach and shops for ship repairs, while putting Phoenix at Pier 7.

Adam Armstrong, a local resident, said the latest plan would “wall off the community from the waterfront” and do little for local businesses or the quality of life.

“This deal will waste a unique opportunity to build a critically needed maritime support facility that has broad-based community support,” said Tom Fox, president of New York Water Taxi. “It’s incredibly short-sighted and there should be a better compromise.”

Seth W. Pinsky, president of the Economic Development Corporation, said the Bloomberg administration would continue to work with the community, adding that the city had always said that Pier 7 was the logical place for Phoenix. But some city officials said that the deal had taken them by surprise. Still, Mr. Pinsky said, “It presents an opportunity not just to retain jobs but to expand what Phoenix does in the city.”

Phoenix, which is the exclusive Heineken distributor in New York City and Long Island, has sought for seven years to move to Red Hook, where it hoped to reduce its handling costs and cut the number of trucks needed to transport containers from New Jersey to New York. “Time really was of the essence,” said Rod Brayman, chief executive of Phoenix. “It is now possible to lock in contracts which will provide jobs and commerce for years to come.”

By CHARLES V. BAGLI
New York Times

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Entry filed under: Brooklyn, Go Coastal, Working Waterfront.

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