Back in 2006, Whole Foods held a groundbreaking ceremony for its first location in Brooklyn, in Gowanus on Third Street. Three years later, however, Whole Foods put the project on hold, in part because dangerously high levels of benzene, a carcinogenic gasoline byproduct, had seeped into the soil at the property from a former Verizon fuel station on Third Street. Some local residents also worried about the traffic impact from the supermarket. But Whole Foods ultimately decided to move ahead with the project, and after a major environmental cleanup, construction is finally underway.
Hey everyone, the Whole Foods in Gowanus is finally going up! Learned the fun way by the sound of a giant pile driver at 7AM.
— Jeff Baum (@jeffbaum) October 23, 2012
According to a letter sent to the local Community Board earlier this month, Whole Foods is preparing to lay the foundation this fall. The NYS Department of Environmental
Conservation gave Whole Foods a “certificate of completion” earlier this year, signifying the final step in the cleanup of this brownfield site. Now, according to Whole Foods, demolition of the remaining deteriorating structures that were on the property is complete and construction is set to begin. Of course, the historic LI Coignet Stone Building is still there, which is another thing opponents have been up in arms about.
The 140-year-old building stands isolated on the edge of the massive vacant lot at 360 Third Avenue in Brooklyn. Whole Foods has pledged to preserve the building, but some preservationists are still unhappy because the supermarket plans to build within five feet of the landmarked building. Dating back to 1872, it's the oldest concrete building in the city, and was built by Coignet to show off its advances in molded concrete—all the ornate detail appears to be hand-carved stone, but is actually molded concrete. Here's Whole Foods' latest statement on the Coignet building:
Our architects are currently working on drawings for the renovation of the façade, which will then need to be approved by New York landmarks officials. Once approved, we will be able to move forward on exterior repairs to the building in conjunction with the store’s construction. As questions are frequently asked, it’s important to note that while this building will be repaired and remain adjacent to our property, we do not actually own the building and it will not be utilized by Whole Foods Market.
So the devil is in the details—stay tuned for another round of controversy when the renovation plans are unveiled later this year. In the meantime, Whole Foods is promising "the best Brooklyn-made products" in every aisle, and jobs for local residents starting next summer. At press time, rumors about a hotly anticipatedGowanus Monorailwere still unconfirmed.