Culture has docked in Red Hook

Full-steam ahead for Whalen tanker
The Brooklyn Paper / Bess Adler

The homeless, floating symbol of Red Hook’s once-thriving maritime past, the tanker Mary Whalen, will get a permanent home near the neighborhood’s container port and cruise ship terminal, city officials revealed last week.

The Mary Whalen, a retired oil tanker converted into the headquarters of the PortSide NY organization, has secured a position on Pier 11, a site just south of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel that the city is developing with a beer distributing company, a Governors Island ferry berth, and a dock for ferries and workboats.

“We’ve been very compromised by the lack of a permanent home,” said Carolina Salguero, the director of PortSide. The Mary Whalen has been stationed nearby in the Red Hook container port, but because it’s an active shipping port, there are federal security regulations that prevent the vessel from having regular hours or events that are open to the public.

PortSide is nautical by nature and its vessel is educational, but practical, too; the group will teach classes that prepare students for work in the merchant marines, for instance.

The city was glowing in its support for PortSide.

“They offer nearly everything we want to do in a cultural use — provide access to the water, educational events and job training to the working maritime,” said Janel Patterson, a spokeswoman for the Economic Development Corporation.

Salguero said her group might move into Pier 11, known as the Atlantic Basin, by this summer, but cautioned that it will take time before the group thrives.

“The moment you have a garden doesn’t mean it’s in bloom,” she said.

The deal for PortSide is part of the Economic Development Corporation’s larger plans for the unused dock. In December, the agency revealed it had reached a deal with Phoenix Beverages, a major importing company, to relocate about 500 jobs to Red Hook from Long Island City. The company will also have some space on Pier 7, near Atlantic Avenue.

Residents have expressed disapproval about the 100 trucks expected to depart daily from Phoenix’s site, though there has also been a sentiment that the city should preserve the working waterfront.

“Putting Phoenix Beverages there yields overall environmental and economic benefits, but there’s no benefit to the neighboring communities,” said Jeff Strabone, chair of the Economic and Waterfront Development Committee of Community Board 6.