Whole Foods will build Brooklyn store after all

Whole Foods will build Brooklyn store after all

Whole Foods announced it is moving forward with plans to build a grocery store featuring the company’s first rooftop greenhouse at Third Avenue and 3rd Street in Gowanus, ending years of speculation that the project might not materialize.

The upscale supermarket giant downgraded final design plans to meet community and environmental concerns, opting for a 52,000 square foot store 25 percent smaller than originally planned with a 248 space ground level parking lot, instead of a larger parking garage.

Whole Foods finished an expensive remediation of the once toxic site under the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program last summer, maintaining the whole while that the cleanup would not guarantee that construction of the store would follow.

But in an email Monday Whole Foods announced it would build there after all.

“Whole Foods Market is now officially moving forward with the development of our first ever Brooklyn” location, the store said.

Whole Foods spokesperson Michael Sinatra said the store could open by “late 2012.”

It will feature a 20,000 square foot rooftop greenhouse, the company’s first, where produce will be grown for sale in the supermarket below. Sinatra said it could also serve as an educational space for area school children.

The parking lot will have charging stations for electric powered cars. The closest Whole Foods location with similar technology is in Darien, Connecticut.

Citing the site’s high water level made trickier by the proximity of the contaminated Gowanus Canal, in the early stages of a Superfund cleanup Whole Foods dropped an earlier plan to build the store below grade. It will be built at grade level, on a layer of uncontaminated soil.

It is unclear how the Superfund cleanup might impact the store, which is located along the canal. It will be paid for by businesses whose land contributed to pollution in the canal.

Sinatra said “there is no expectation” that Whole Foods will have to help pay for the federal cleanup.

But Betty Lester, president of the Gowanus Neighborhood Association, who supports a new supermarket for the area, said that could change as the Superfund project moves forward and the Environmental Protection Agency uncovers the extent of the contamination.

“I’m glad that they’re opening but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s repercussions down the line,” Lester said. “I think [Whole Foods] could have waited a little bit longer until we get results from the EPA.”

Nevertheless a supermarket with fresh produce is badly needed in the industrial neighborhood, which is experiencing a renaissance driven by an influx of artists and climbing real estate prices.

Pockets of low income households and two public housing developments remain, however. For those less affluent residents, gentrification has delivered a supermarket that might be out of reach, said Lester, who lives in the Gowanus Houses.

“It’s not geared for us,” Lester said of her neighbors, many of whom make the trek to grocery stores in Park Slope and Boerum Hill. But “because we have such a lack of fresh produce there’s people that are going to shop there.”

She added that if the store accepts Food Stamps it would attract a wider clientele.

Whole Foods’ announcement also caught the attention of other grocery stores, who are facing the prospect of competition with a national brand name supermarket.

Marko Lalic, the president of Union Market, which has three high end grocery stores in Park Slope and Cobble Hill, shrugged it off, saying his customers appreciate independently owned businesses.

“We’re a much different business,” Lalic said. “I’m sure it will have some impact but we’re not really worried.”

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