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Whole Foods Working to Restore Landmark Gowanus Building

By Leslie Albrecht | October 23, 2012 8:02am

GOWANUS — The new Whole Foods at Third Avenue and Third Street isn't the only change coming to that corner of Gowanus — a neighborhood landmark will get a new look as well.

Whole Foods officials confirmed recently that architects are now working on plans to restore the 19th-century Coignet Stone Company building next to the new store.

The building's dilapidated exterior will get a facelift as part of a deal Whole Foods signed when it acquired the property, though Whole Foods doesn't own the structure and has no plans to use it, store officials told Brooklyn's Community Board 6 in a recent memo.

The fate of the ornate Coignet building has been closely watched since Whole Foods announced plans to build a 52,000-square foot store just a few feet from the historic building, which has stood at the site since the mid-1870s. Any improvements to the structure must be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Whole Foods spokesman Michael Sinatra said he could not disclose how much it would cost to restore the building's exterior. No work is planned on the building's interior.

The Coignet building was built around 1873 to show off a new kind of concrete produced at an adjacent factory that was later demolished, according to the 2006 landmark designation report. Preservationists protested when Whole Foods won permission to shrink the building's lot size.

Whole Foods officials also told Community Board 6 the store will showcase Brooklyn-based products in nearly every aisle. The new store, now in the initial stages of construction on Third Street and Third Avenue, will stock Brooklyn Brine pickles and Crop to Cup Coffee, both of which are headquartered on President Street, just blocks from the new store.

Other local products will include Red Hook’s Sixpoint Beer, Greenpoint’s Gotham Greens and Acme Smoked Fish, and Boerum Hill-based NuNu Chocolates.

The Austin-based gourmet retailer says it's so committed to hawking local wares that it employs a "local forager who solely works as a liaison and conduit to assist small producers in growing their business."

Sinatra said offering neighborhood-centric products is in line with Whole Foods' corporate philosophy. "That's who we are as a company," Sinatra said. "The idea is that when we open a store it's not just to bring a store…it's (also about) supporting the local community and local vendors."

Workers are now preparing the new store’s construction site, and work on the foundation is expected to start later this fall. The 52,000-square foot store is expected to be completed in fall 2013.

Hiring for the new store will start in the summer of 2013, and local elected officials are expected to help organize job fairs in the neighborhood so locals get first crack at “high-quality new employment opportunities,” Whole Foods representatives told Community Board 6.