Red Hook merchants blast UPS’s sudden demolition of historic factory
“Little people don’t matter when there’s big money.”
Red Hook merchants, much like local preservationists, are pushing back against UPS’s decision to begin demolishing the historic Lidgerwood Building without community input.
They say the delivery-service giant pulled a shady move by starting demolition on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend — without speaking to advocates about preserving the former foundry’s facade.
UPS has “a kindergarten mentality — just knock it down like it’s nothing more than a building,” Bene Coopersmith, owner of the Record Shop on Van Brunt Street, told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“They want you to forget it has significance,” he said.
The delivery service is tearing down the Lidgerwood Building to make way for a mammoth facility it’s building on a multi-parcel tract of land bounded by Coffey and Ferris streets and Red Hook’s shoreline.
Coopersmith called the giant company’s destruction of the historic Lidgerwood Building a step in “the further corporatization of America.”
When huge companies face off with community activists, “it’s not a fair fight,” he said.
“It makes me feel bad about having a small business,” he said. “Little people don’t matter when there’s big money.”
The Lidgerwood Building at 202 Coffey St., which was built in the 1880s, was a living reminder of Red Hook’s century-long reign as a maritime and industrial powerhouse, activist Carolina Salguero of PortSide NewYork told the Eagle last week.
The Lidgerwood foundry’s location across from Louis Valentino Jr. Park and Pier was significant because it was one of three picturesque 19th-century industrial buildings that formed a ring around the waterfront recreation area.
‘Significant asbestos contamination’
UPS started tearing down the Lidgerwood Building while the city Landmarks Preservation Commission was evaluating the property to decide whether to put it on the agency’s calendar to consider designating it as a landmark.
In a May 24 letter to Community Board 6, which had requested the LPC evaluation, UPS Director of State Government Affairs Axel Carrion said there was “significant asbestos contamination” at the Lidgerwood Building.
An engineering review “identified structural instability and significant compromise of the roof” and therefore “the most appropriate and safest means of abating the asbestos was to take down the entire building,” Carrion wrote.
His letter said when UPS commissions a design for the new facility it’s going to build on Coffey Street, “we will integrate elements reminiscent of the Lidgerwood Manufacturing Building into a portion of the exterior facade.”
The company will use bricks from the historic building when constructing the new facility insofar as it’s “feasible and safe” to do so, Carrion wrote.
A statement a UPS spokesperson sent the Eagle on Friday also mentions “significant asbestos” on the Lidgerwood Building’s roof and exterior.
And “[s]eparately, structural analysis has shown the building to be unstable and unsafe,” the UPS spokesperson said in his statement.
He refused to answer questions about how it’s possible a building that until recently was considered safe is now deemed unsafe. The property was frequently rented out for still-photo shoots and for filming sessions for TV shows and movies.
The Lidgerwood Building “will become even more unsafe as the needed additional asbestos removal is undertaken,” the UPS spokesperson’s statement said.
“The engineering assessment has further confirmed the old building cannot be safely incorporated into or support the planned new facility,” the spokesperson’s statement said.
‘I was upset it was sold’
It felt like UPS rushed to obtain demolition permits as soon as the Landmarks Preservation Commission focused on the Lidgerwood Building, said Cory Hill, the owner of Wet Whistle Wines on Van Brunt Street.
“If you go to Europe, there’s this incredible weight of history,” Hill told the Eagle. “New York is the opposite. It’s like, ‘Tear it down.’
“In this country, it’s about always changing,” he said.
Another Van Brunt Street merchant, Erdem Eroglu, started to worry about the Lidgerwood Building the moment it changed hands.
“I was upset it was sold,” the co-owner of leather-goods maker Polt Atolye told the Eagle.
According to city Finance Department records, UPS paid $37.25 million for the Lidgerwood Building in early 2018 and spent $303 million later that year to buy adjacent industrial buildings.
To Eroglu, it seemed inevitable that UPS would build a modern facility on the development site it put together with those two purchases.
“I felt there was no way we can stop this,” he said.
‘A great loss’
Gallery owner Jonathan Belli called UPS’s demolition of the Lidgerwood Building “a great loss” and said, “I think it’s a shame. One of the great strengths of Red Hook is its historic background and all the richness that comes with that.”
His business, Belli Gallery, is located in the historic Beard and Robinson Stores, built in the 1860s and 1870s.
“I never like to see old buildings torn down,” Belli told the Eagle.
He wasn’t surprised UPS started demolishing the Lidgerwood Building without meeting with community activists. “It sounds like a standard bureaucratic response,” he said.
Old buildings should be ‘respected’
David Wu, an employee at Dry Dock Wine + Spirits on Van Brunt Street, told the Eagle UPS was “wrong” to start tearing down 202 Coffey St. without first talking to preservation-minded Red Hook residents.
The new facility UPS is building will put an end to the neighborhood’s calm, laid-back vibe, Wu predicted.
“The atmosphere of Red Hook is going to be gone,” he said.
Ezequiel Alicea, a glass artisan at Flickinger Glassworks, also thinks UPS was wrong to start tearing down the Lidgerwood Building.
“It’s a relic of the past and should be respected,” he told the Eagle in Spanish.
“I think when there’s a very old building, it should not be destroyed,” Alicea explained. “Because in this day and age, buildings aren’t constructed as strongly as they were in the past.
“The building materials — wood, metal and bricks —were much better quality than today’s building materials,” he said.
Flickinger Glassworks is located in the historic Merchant Stores, built in 1873.
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