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January 19, 2021
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News + Views

Gowanus Whole Foods

By Lisa M. Collins
Weeds and concrete will be transformed into organic food destination.
Photo by Joshua Kristal

You’ve heard this, that and the other about the massive Gowanus Canal Brooklyn Whole Foods to be built on the mostly empty, industrial and formerly toxic lot located at Third Street and Third Avenue, surely to be a mecca and magnet for people looking for organic veggies and fruits, meats and fish, cereals and provisions, regardless of price. There have been concerns about the impact of the U.S. EPA Superfund cleanup, and folks disgruntled about the added traffic the large full-service grocery store will bring. There have been rumors of a vertical farm.

Here’s the skinny, as shared with South Brooklyn Post by Whole Foods spokesman Michael Sinatra:

The Whole Foods will be built, and is slated to open in early 2013, if a zoning variance with the city goes smoothly, Sinatra said. With all other approvals in hand, the company now needs a variance to build a larger structure than is currently allowed at that property. The property is zoned for a 10,000 square foot building; Whole Foods wants to build a 52,000-square-foot structure.

The design won’t be finalized until the variance is approved, but right now the plan is for a full-service grocery store, with a café serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and a prepared foods and delivery operation, Sinatra said. It’s not been decided whether there will be an outdoor terrace or a windowed, interior seating area, Sinatra said, but around the shop, the company will “beautify” the property with pathways, walkways and landscaping. “It will be a nice place to visit,” Sinatra said.

The grocery store will include a very cool feature: a 20,000 square foot fruit and vegetable farm on the roof, growing food to be sold in the store. The little farm won’t necessarily be “vertical,” but will operate like a traditional greenhouse, he said.

“This is certainly an innovation for us,” Sinatra said. “We talk about local items and limiting our environmental impact as much as possible. You don’t get more local than this.”

The small farm will also work to naturally cool the store.

If approved, the new store will be about as big as the Whole Foods on Columbus Circle in Manhattan. There are 300 Whole Foods nationwide, and the 75,000-square-foot shop on the Bowery, and the 68,000-square-foot store in Tribecca, are quite larger than the Brooklyn store will be.

The parking lot, with spaces for 248 cars, will include electrical car recharging stations, which are featured in all new Whole Foods stores, Sinatra said.

Originally, Whole Foods had proposed a much larger store with more parking. But when the U.S. EPA designated the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site, in March 2010, plans changed. Whole Foods at first said it would not build on the site, and then agreed to clean the toxins from the ground there. That cleanup is now complete.

Whole Foods’ last four stores have won LEED certification for maximizing energy efficiency, and the Gowanus Whole Foods will also try to win LEED certification, Sinatra said. The design will certainly include reclaimed wood and energy-efficient elements for lighting and cooling. The company has a “green” mission, and a full-time “green mission specialist” on staff, Sinatra said.

More details and design features will be released and completed when the zoning variance is approved, Sinatra said. At that time the store can really reach out to the community, he said.

“We’re very excited to get involved with community events and community giving,” Sinatra said. “This is a long time coming and we are excited to be in Brooklyn.”

Perhaps best is that the store will create 350 jobs, 70 percent of which are full-time with full benefits, Sinatra said. “It’s really great and something different for our industry to have such a high percentage be full time, and to get benefits. That’s why Fortune [Magazine] names us one of the 100 best companies to work for on its list every year. We’re very proud of that, and of our benefits. I’m proud to be a team member, myself. ”

The Whole Foods Brooklyn project has been through lots of ups and downs; mainly, the EPA designation of the Gowanus Canal as a Superfund Site—one of the most polluted sites in the country and prioritized for federal cleanup. The federal cleanup is still in the planning stages, as the government must determine the best method for cleaning the toxins layered in the mud underneath the canal’s waters, and how to dispose of those toxins once they are removed.

Cleaning one of the nation’s most polluted waterways is, certainly, no easy task. The pollution happened over a century of heavy industry, and the feds are hoping to finish the cleanup by 2015 (the companies involved with the pollution and that currently own the sites will foot the bill).

Sinatra said the EPA cleanup of the canal does not impact the Whole Foods.

Sinatra said there’s no official date for the store opening.

“The target is early 2013,” he said. If the zoning process moves quickly, it could be sooner than that, and if it goes slowly, it’ll be later than that, he said.



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