Demolition of Two Non-Historic Structures, New Canopy, Proposed for Seaport Pier

Architect's rendering of the Pier 17 proposal. Image credit: SHoP Architects

Architect’s rendering of the Pier 17 proposal. Image credit: SHoP Architects

The demolitions would make new Pier building a free-standing structure, with four visible facades, and a new canopy that would allow for all-weather use of roof space. On August 4, 2015, representatives of the Howard Hughes Corporation appeared at the Landmarks Preservation Commission to propose revisions to their planned redevelopment of Piers 16 and 17 in the South Street Seaport Historic District. Landmarks in 2012 approved an application by SHoP Architects, after multiple hearings, to replace the 1985 mall that previously stood on the site. The pier, at 89 South Street, lies in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport Historic District.

SHoP Architects’ Gregg Pasquarelli presented the plan for the new introductions to the development plan. The Link Building and Head House, which lie on the landward side of the pier, were originally approved to be used to house mechanical equipment and to enclose water and electrical conduits. In the new proposal, both would be demolished. The Link and Head building were both constructed in the 1980s and lack any historical or architectural significance. The removal of the Head Building would allow for a “finished facade” on the Seaport face of the new building, matching the other approved facades.  Pasquarelli noted that the demolitions would increase the amount of pedestrian-accessible public space. An access drive for delivery trucks would be created where the link Building stood, and be paved with asphalt, with walkways in pavers.

A new canopy would be installed covering the majority of the pier building’s roof, made of aluminum, steel, and lightweight, transparent ETFE polymer, supported by steel columns, and rising 30 feet above the landscaped roof space. Pasquarelli said the canopy would provide protection that would make year-round use of the open space more appealing.

Mechanical equipment originally planned to be housed in the Head House would be relocated to the pier building’s roof, concealed with a zinc screen. Pasquarelli said that there existed a long history of recreational spaces on the East River being covered with canopies. Pasquarelli stated that parts of the roof could be used for private events through an agreement with the City’s Economic Development Corporation, but the roof would always be at least partially accessible to the public.

Howard Hughes Senior Executive Vice President Chris Curry declined to address any further plans for the development of the Seaport beyond the current application.

A representative read a joint statement from Council Member Margaret Chin and Borough President Gale Brewer expressing concerns about whether the rooftop canopy would increase the use of the space for private use, and rendering it inaccessible to the public. The officials stated that, should Landmarks issue the project a certificate of appropriateness, “the City should not consider its approval grounds for de facto approval of other permits” A representative of Assembly Member Sheldon Silver asked Landmarks to reject the proposal, saying the community did not wish to see the space turned into an entertainment venue.

The New York Landmark Conservancy’s Andrea Goldwyn spoke in opposition to the project, and argued it was premature to review the application without a further understanding of the Howard Hughes Corporation’s further plans for redeveloping the Seaport, including its plans for the Tin Building, which historically housed the Fulton Fish Market. The Historic District Council’s Barbara Zay protested “the piecemeal presentation of larger masterplan.” A representative of Save Our Seaport spoke in opposition, and said use of the roof as event space was inappropriate for the pier and the district. Residents of the nearby Southbridge Tower also objected to the planned event use. Area resident Peter Davies argued that the views of the Brooklyn Bridge would be “obliterated” by the proposed canopy, while the City Club’s Jeffrey Kroessler spoke decried the applications as a “free-standing mall without the clutter of history.”

A representative read a statement from Downtown Alliance President Jessica Lappin who is in support of the project. The letter stated that it would create jobs and generate tax revenue, as well as stimulate ‘a vibrant multi-use neighborhood.” The Real Estate Board of New York’s Paimaan Lodhi testified that the proposed actions were critical components of the redevelopment, and that the buildings proposed for demolition were “un-noteworthy.” A representative of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce urged approval, calling the redeveloped pier “a long-awaited amenity” that would also function as a “new hub of economic activity.” Other supporters included the Association for a Better New York, Nontraditional Employment for Women, and the Building Trades Employers’ Association.

Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan stated that Manhattan Community Board 1 has issued a resolution that supported the demolition of the Link and Head buildings, but opposed the erection of the canopy. Srinivasan said the commission had also received ten letters in support of the project, among them a missive from the Old Seaport Alliance.

Pasquarelli disputed that the canopy would block views of the Brooklyn Bridge. Curry stated that the canopy would serve to maximize public access as well as opportunities to host events, and said portions of the roof would be available to the public every day throughout the year despite any additional programming. Curry said potential event use of the roof could include weddings, birthday parties, corporate events, and musical performances. Maximum capacity for rooftop events would be 4,000 people.

Landmarks Counsel John Weiss advised commissioners that the impact of the project on views of the Brooklyn Bridge was outside Landmarks’ purview.

Commissioner Michael Goldblum noted that traditional pier buildings rarely exceeded two or three stories, and the addition of the canopy pushed the planned building outside of an appropriate typology. Goldblum also found the paved roadway to negatively affect the pedestrian experience, and suggested the use of cobblestones instead. Commissioner Fred Bland, who had voted for the initial proposal with some ambivalence, found the demolition of the existing industrial structures and the creation of a fourth glass facade rendered the new pier building “the perfect mall,” and inappropriate for the historic district. Bland also wished to understand Howard Hughes’ future plans for the Tin Building before approving any demolition. Commissioner Roberta Washington said she could not vote to approve the proposed canopy and the additional height it brought to the project, while Commissioner Diana Chapin commented that she would like to see the canopy lowered.

Chair Srinivasan said she found the removal of the Head and Link buildings generally appropriate, and noted that the demolitions would restore historic view corridors. Srinivasan questioned the scale of the canopy, and found the choice of asphalt for access ways “unfortunate.” She asked the applicants to return to Landmarks at later date, and present examples of other pier buildings that could serve as antecedents for the proposal, and to further explain or reconsider the canopy.

LPC: 89 South Street, Manhattan (16-2016) (August 4, 2015) (Architect: SHoP Architects).

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

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