In early June, the major real-estate developer Thor Equities announced that it plans to build a four-story complex in Red Hook, Brooklyn, complete with 600,000 sq. ft of office space and 23,000 sq. ft of retail and restaurant space, designed by Foster + Partners. The design is aimed, the statement says, at suitability for a “TAMI (technology, advertising, media and information) tenant or other appropriate user of the space.”
The news came as a surprise for some. Though Red Hook has grown in popularity in recent years, it remains a sleepy former freight port at the southernmost outskirts of Brooklyn, known mainly for its artists’ studios, of which there are around 150, according to a 2012 Crain’s report.
“Artists tend to pave the way” “I do feel that artist studios are an important factor for this gentrification,” says the artist Bosco Sodi, who has lived and worked in Red Hook since 2009. “Certainly this is very bad news for Red Hook.” Artists tend to pave the way for restaurants and hip businesses, which then attract developers, he says. “This is a big problem in many New York neighbourhoods and in many cities all around the world. I have experienced this in Barcelona, Berlin, Mexico City and now New York.”
Isaac Brest, a member of the Still House group, which is in the process of moving out of the Red Hook space that it has used since 2011 (for unrelated reasons), says he has noticed the neighbourhood becoming more crowded in the past six months.
“I wouldn’t say it’s disappointing but it’s the responsibility of the landlords in the area to realise that one of the main reasons that these neighbourhoods are attractive to tenants are their artists,” Brest says. “They have a responsibility to keep the neighbourhood attractive to artists.”
Patty LaRocco, an associate real estate broker with Douglas Elliman, who does a lot of business in Red Hook, says that residential rent prices have increased by 30%, while retail rents have likely doubled, since Superstorm Sandy flooded the whole area in 2012. She says that the storm “put Red Hook on the map in the same way 9/11 put Tribeca on the map”.
LaRocco adds that artists were also likely to be a factor, citing Dustin Yellin’s Pioneer Works art space as a major landmark and attraction, while the O’Connell Organization (which could not be reached for comment) has in the past actively sought artist tenants for its developments in Red Hook.
However, height zoning means that Red Hook will never become over-developed. And, LaRocco adds, artists like Rob Pruitt and Urs Fischer have only moved to the neighbourhood relatively recently. Moreover, she herself has recently placed Dan Colen and Tony Shafrazi in Red Hook studios, and is currently looking for something for David Salle.
As for the Thor office project? “That’s the least cool part of the neighbourhood, anyway,” LaRocco says.