Landmarks Approves Modifications to Seaport’s Pier 17 Redevelopment Plan

Revised rendering of Seaport’s Pier 17 redevelopment plan. Credit: SHoP Architects.

Modified plan would split redeveloped Pier 17 into two components, with signage added to roof and for the complex’s commercial tenants. On October 23, 2012, Landmarks agreed to amend a previously issued binding report for a plan to redevelop Pier 17 in the South Street Seaport Historic District.  Landmarks in May 2012 initially approved the Howard Hughes Corporation and the New York City Economic Development Corporation’s plan to demolish the existing Pier 17 structure and build a new, SHoP Architects-designed glass-clad complex with retail uses and public space. (See CityLand’s coverage of the approval here.)

ShoP Architects’ Gregg Pasquarelli described the revisions and new elements of the project. The complex had initially been designed as a solid mass with a notch carved out on the waterfront facade to recall that there were once two piers on the site. The notch in the pier will remain, but the complex will now be divided into two structures, which will allow more natural light into the ground floor and break up the interior massing. While the complex’s public rooftop space would no longer be contiguous, connections to each side will remain.

Pasquarelli also presented a signage plan which had not been included in the proposal approved in May. The plan was created by the design firm Pentagram, and included displaying accessory signs for individual retail establishments on previously approved three-foot-wide glass blades protruding from the exterior facade. New way-finding signs will be installed on the complex and along Fulton Street. The six painted-metal signs will be ten-feet-tall by three-feet-wide.  A three-dimensional metal sign, tentatively planned to read “SEAPORT” in nine-foot high letters, will be mounted eight feet above the edge of the building’s roofline facing the East River. In addition, a sign will be painted on the corrugated metal cladding of the Link Building, which is attached to the western side of the existing main building. Although no specific language for the sign’s lettering was presented, Pasquarelli suggested that the Link Building could be used for a farmers’ market.

Preservationists spoke both in support of, and opposition to, the proposed signage. The Society for the Architecture of the City’s Christabel Gough objected to the “SEAPORT” sign at the end of the pier facing the East River, stating that the massive sign would obstruct the river views of visitors on the roof and was not “saying anything in particular,” and might as well say “attention shoppers on the BQE.” The Historic Districts Council’s Nadezhda Williams argued that the signage would give the building the character of “just another suburban mall.”

The New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Andrea Goldwyn supported the altered proposal, stating that the divided masses better recalled the historic configurations of the piers. Goldwyn recommended that the blade signs be less intrusive, and that their fonts and colors be standardized.  Connie Chung, from the Alliance for Downtown New York, encouraged Landmarks to approve the revised plan as presented, and said the proposed signage was “critical to the project’s success.”

Chair Robert B. Tierney pointed out that Manhattan Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee opposed the “SEAPORT” sign and the blade signs, but supported the proposed way-finding signs.

The commissioners generally supported the proposal. Chair Tierney found the proposal appropriate, and noted that “something’s got to happen” at the long-stagnant site. Commissioner Diana Chapin agreed, finding that dividing the building’s massing recalled the appearance of historic piers. Chapin also found that the blade signs worked well with the glass facade, and that the rooftop signage was appropriate in its context. Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea also found the revisions to improve the project, but argued that the blade signs should be limited to one per tenant. Commissioner Michael Devonshire said he was “excited” to see the roof sign, but recommended creating a master plan for the design and lettering of the blade signs. While Commissioner Michael Goldblum found some of the revisions appropriate, he said the blade signs in their current configuration were inappropriate and detracted from the building’s industrial quality.

The commissioners voted unanimously to issue a binding report, provided the applicant limit the blade signs to one sign per tenant, and work with staff on sign design.

LPC: 89 South Street, Manhattan (13-6688) (Oct. 23, 2012) (Architect: SHoP Architects).

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