Unexpected Music Festival at Brooklyn’s Only Container Port Enrages Residents


Beard Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a stone’s throw from industrial cranes at the last container port in Brooklyn. (Isabelle Niu/NY City Lens)

Beard Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a stone’s throw from industrial cranes at the last container port in Brooklyn. (Isabelle Niu/NY City Lens)

When organizers of a music festival announced plans that will bring artists like Moby and Girl Talk to play amid industrial cranes and shipping containers at a port on Brooklyn waterfront, little did they anticipate stiff local opposition.

Residents in the neighborhoods of Red Hook and Columbia Street Waterfront District, who were still sore due to an unexpected private party at the port the week before, did not appreciate another surprise.

Local leaders and residents said they were kept in the dark the whole time while the promoter, the terminal operator and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey made arrangements for the two-day Escape Music Festival at Pier 9 of Red Hook Container Port. The event, scheduled to the weekend of October 11, will bring some 16,000 people from all over the city to the two waterside neighborhoods, according to the organizer, Balearic Entertainment.

“What I’ve been told is I’m going to be listening to 12 hours straight of drums for two days in a row, and outreach to the community? Zero,” said David Lutz, who heard pulsating base from his Van Brunt Street home when the port last turned into an entertainment venue on September 12. The vodka-drenched party sponsored by alcohol companies attracted nearly 1,000 people.

Events on the Port Authority’s property are not subject to public review. But third-party event organizers must pay a hefty security fee and go through a complicated permitting process with the bi-state government agency, said Greg Brayman, owner of Red Hook Container Terminal LLC (RHCT), which operates the port on behalf of the Port Authority.

Community members urged the operator and the Port Authority to reach out to them during the planning phase because last week’s party showed how much such events can affect the neighborhood.

“I saw people peeing up and down Columbia Street and Union Street and I screamed at them,” said Victoria Hagman, who sits on the board of Community District 6. “I just felt that is not the appropriate use for that space and the lights and the trucks and the amount of people, it was just insane to me.”

RHCT’s CEO Mike Stamatis promised to work with local officials and community members to limit events to those all involved parties deem appropriate.

Residents who took issue with thousands of people invading their neighborhood have found an unexpected ally in those who fear the port is being phased out.

For more than a decade, talks of redeveloping the port’s last few working piers have loomed over the small container terminal on the border of Red Hook and Columbia Street Waterfront District. As shipping activities declined, the City and State have already shifted much of the use of the waterfront through the construction of Brooklyn Bridge Park on Piers 1 through 6 and a terminal for cruise ships on Pier 12. Now the once boisterous shipping hub is down to its last five working piers.

“The problem with having one event, two events, things like this is that people expect to see them here, and eventually there may be more incentive to do events and less incentive to do the maritime portion,” said George Fiala, owner of a community newspaper.

While shipping activities are slow, non-maritime demand for the property remains high, given the port’s stunning view of the Manhattan skyline and of the Statue of Liberty.

“If the Port Authority’s land was put to commercial and residential development it would develop a far larger cash flow than what it currently gets,” said John Mollenkopf, who specializes on urban studies at City University of New York.

Greg Brayman, owner of RHCT, said although he frequently gets requests from domestic and international event organizers, he is committed to not booking more events at this point.

“I will be back and talk about further events, and outline what might work and might not work with the community and officials, but 99.999 percent, 100 percent of the time it is going to be an industrial shipping facility,” he said.

The company hopes to attract more business through a new program that barges cargo destined for east of Hudson River between New Jersey and New York.

“We are doing whatever we can to keep Red Hook alive as a working port,” Stamatis said.

Meanwhile, Red Hook residents braced for what the promoter called on its website “the craziest party in Ibiza” and said they hope the next time they could do more than complaining about a done-deal.

“Is there a chance that this is not going to happen? No,” said Glenn Kelly, chair of the parks and recreations committee. “We are going to suffer through that so we need feedback from the community afterwards to tell them never do this again, or we gotta do this or that. ”