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Red Hook Ikea Tows Educational Truck in Dispute Over Park Space, Group Says

By Nikhita Venugopal | July 8, 2013 8:17am | Updated on July 12, 2013 12:31pm
 Ludger Balan, head of the Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy, said IKEA had their mobile museum towed from the surrounding park.
Marine Nonprofit Ousted from Brooklyn's IKEA Park
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RED HOOK — A nonprofit environmental education group that set up a massive mobile museum behind Red Hook's Ikea to teach kids about ecology was towed by the furniture megastore in a fight over park space, its representatives said.

The Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy, an environmental and cultural group committed to protecting coastal resources, said Ikea reps towed its "EnvironMedia Mobile," a trailer filled with educational materials that the group left permanently parked in Ikea's parking lot.

The 48-foot trailer was pulled out of the Ikea lot on June 24 and taken to an impound lot in East Williamsburg,

Steve Pratt, manager at All About Automotive impound, said Friday that the bill to get the trailer out that day was $1,915.75 — and it was rising by $50-a-day.

“We don’t have the money to bring it back,” said Ludger Balan, who founded the environmental organization with a group of 16 divers in 1998. The group, which has organized clean-up and advocacy in the Hudson River, Valentino Park and the Gowanus Canal, is now demanding that Ikea pay the “thousands of dollars” it will take to get the trailer out.

“It’s been a nightmare,” added Balan. “They’re forcibly shutting down an organization.”

But Ikea had asked the Conservancy to move the mobile museum last year, Ikea Brooklyn Local Marketing Manager Lorna Montalvo told DNAinfo New York.

“It cannot permanently sit in the Ikea parking lot,” she said, Friday.

Montalvo said the Conservancy had not moved or used the EnviroMobile Museum in the recent past, adding that there were “large indentations of where the tires were,” in the parking lot.

While Montalvo said the megastore supports the marine nonprofit's mission and work, “they simply cannot just rely on Ikea,” she said.

In a recent email to conservancy members shared with DNAinfo, Montalvo wrote that the group had two weeks to get out, or be towed.

“This letter, upon receipt, shall serve as the final two-weeks written notice of our intent to have the EnvironMedia Mobile towed from the premises and the additional combustible materials removed from our parking area and property,” Montalvo wrote in a June 1 email to the nonprofit.

Montalvo's email warned that Ikea planned to sever their relationship with the conservancy, according to correspondence shared with DNAinfo New York.

“When we asked several times in the fall of 2011 to remove items from under the parking lot we were met with nothing but intransigence and belligerence on your part with further attempts to discredit myself and our organization within the community,” Montalvo wrote in the June 1 ultimatum email.

“As a result, the relationship between ourselves and UDEC has broken down irretrievably and any future collaboration will now not be possible or desired,” she continued in the email, which added that the nonprofit and Ikea did not have a written agreement.

Balan said the conservancy attempted to repair the relationship, and even secured a hopeful email dated May 1 in which Ikea reps expressed their desire to “discuss a resolution,” according to an email from Ikea shared with DNAinfo.

He added that Ikea, who has worked with other loca organizations like the Red Hook Initiative and Good Shepherd Services, was initially very hospitable to the conservancy when it moved into a parking space behind Ikea in late 2009 — first in the parking lot and finally to a space close to a grassy area — even promising to provide a 40-foot container to store the conservancy's stage.

Ikea never did so, he said.

In 2011, soon after the nonprofit acquired the stage, Ikea shut down their outdoor programs but allowed the conservancy to continue parking its mobile museum at the park, he added.

Balan, who has lived in Red Hook for 15 years, said the park was a perfect location because of its proximity to the waterfront, as well as a convenient Water Taxi stop.

“This is a nautical park,” said Balan, adding that he wanted the programs to appeal to the Red Hook community. “We’re trying to teach these people about the environment.”

He said they never asked for or received funding from Ikea and all programs have been paid for out of their own pockets.

“We earn under $100,000 a year,” said Balan. “We have to scratch our nails to do that.”

The park behind Ikea has had its share of controversy. DNAinfo reported last year that teenagers were having sex on the park’s outdoor metal chaise lounges.

Customers at Ikea who have also participated in the educational programs said they hope the conflict can be resolved.

Margot Hughes, who lives in Bed-Stuy, visited the nonprofit’s program in 2009 with her four children aged 2 to 17 years old, at the time.

“It was wonderful,” Hughes said last week. “There was something that interested each one.”

Hughes recalled the day she spent with her family at a free event, adding that her 2-year-old child flew a kite for the first time that day.

Although she had never been to the park at the time, she has come back several times to the waterfront green space.

“Stimulating and affordable,” said Hughes, referring to the programs.