Former Fish Market Building to be Dismantled, Reconstructed, Moved

Tin Building, South Street Seaport. Image Credit:

Tin Building Rendering, South Street Seaport. Image Credit: SHoP Architects.

The Tin Building will be elevated to bring it out of 100-year flood plain, and it will be restored to its market use as part of the larger Seaport development.  On March 22, 2016, the Landmarks Preservation Commission considered and approved a proposal to dismantle the Tin Building, built as part of the Fulton Fish Market in 1907, and move, restore and reconstruct the structure within the South Street Seaport Historic District. The building, once the main market building for the Fulton Fish Market, lies at the foot of Pier 17, facing South Street. The building’s renovation and reactivation will be done as part of the larger redevelopment of the Seaport being undertaken by the Howard Hughes Corporation. Landmarks previously approved the demolition of a mall on Pier 17, and the creation of a new retail building with public amenities in 2012.

At the hearing, the Economic Development Corporation’s Aileen Gorsuch stated that the Tin Building had been vacant since 2006, and the structural underpinning beneath were severely deteriorated. Gorsuch urged Landmarks to grant the proposal a certificate of appropriateness to secure the building’s long-term stability. Hughes Corporation Vice President Chris Curry said the approved pier development was “well underway.” Curry said it was important to gain swift approval for the Tin Building work, so that it could be done as a “minor modification” to the prior City Planning approval, instead of triggering the entire ULURP process anew.

The reconstructed building will again serve as a market, expected to be operated by restaurateurs Jean Georges. The Tin Building would be reconstructed not in its original footprint, but 18 feet to the southeast. The relocation will prevent the elevated building from intersecting with the FDR, and allow for better pedestrian perception of the building and of the pier. Consultant Elise Quasebarth said the relocation was appropriate because the building’s original context had already been significantly altered by the construction of FDR Drive, which cut off the pier from the rest of the City, and overshadowed the Tin Building.

SHoP Architects’ Gregg Pasquarelli said the relocation would help open up the esplanade, allowing it to serve as a public plaza, protected from traffic by bollards. At the ground level, the reconstructed building would possess individual market stalls. The stalls would be open to the street during warm, weather, with roll-down gates in place during the colder months. Roll-down gates would be partially glazed to maintain the traditional permeability between the exterior and interior of the market. A clerestory above the ground floor that was lost in the 1995 fire would be restored. The reconstruction would also see the introduction of a new loading dock, steps, doors, and rooftop mechanical equipment not present in the existing building. New mechanical equipment would be installed on the reconstructed roof. The reconstructed building would be elevated approximately eight feet higher than in its current setting, to bring it in line with contemporary resiliency standards, and out of the 100-year flood plain.

Very little original historic fabric has been retained by the building, which was severely damaged in a 1995 fire, and further compromised by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Richard Pieper, from Jan Pokorny Associates, said the building had been rebuilt after the fire without its third floor, and in inferior materials such as corrugated siding and glass-reinforced fiber concrete. Pieper stated that remaining canopy trusses that could be salvaged would be retained as well as interior cast-iron columns. The reconstructed building would be clad in sheet metal, and the third floor, which had not been reconstructed after the fire, would be restored.

A representative read a joint statement from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Margaret Chin in support of the plan, arguing that it was far preferable to leaving the building “unused and unmaintained.” Brewer and Chin said the relocation of the building was appropriate in light of the resiliency issues the Seaport faces, and because it would create new pedestrian views of the water. Alex Herrera, of the New York Landmarks Conservancy said the proposed Tin Building work would serve to “bring it back to life,” and the relocation would protect it from future floods and bring it out from the shadow of the FDR overpass. Representatives of the Real Estate Board of New York and the Association for a Better New York also testified in support, saying the project would help integrate the Seaport into the City and ensure it remains a popular destination.

Members of the Friends of the South Street Seaport were vituperative in their opposition to the project, with one saying it would reduce the Tin Building to an “appendage of a modern mall,” and that the proposal was motivated solely by a “developer’s focus on monetary return.” Another member said there was insufficient information about how the project would be accomplished, and alleged that the proposal was part of a wider plan to demolish the 1939 New Market Building.

In response to commissioner questions, Landmarks Counsel Mark Silberman stated that the Commission had the authority to memorialize how historic materials would be stored after dismantling, and to establish a timeline for the reconstruction. Silberman assured commissioners that in-water work on the pier reconstruction and its structural base the building would be overseen by a “bevy” of Federal and local agencies.

Landmarks Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan found the proposal positive for the building and the district, saving it from further deterioration, and protecting it from future natural disasters, ultimately advancing the cause of preservation. Srinivasan also determined that the relocation was acceptable, as the construction of FDR Drive had significantly altered the perception of the structure in its original context.  Commissioner Diana Chapin, agreed and said that the project would make the Tin Building more visible and more resilient.

Commissioners unanimously voted to issue a certificate of appropriateness, into which language was inserted mandating that the developer create a plan to be approved by Landmarks staff for the removal, storage, and reinstallation of historic fabric.

LPC: 95 Marginal Street, Manhattan (18-1685) (March 23, 2016) (Architects: SHoP Architects; Jan Pokorny Associates).

By:  Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law)

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