The Howard Hughes Corporation plans to retain much of the current mall’s structure, but replace its skin. On May 15, 2012, Landmarks issued a binding report approving a revised proposal from the Howard Hughes Corporation and the New York City Economic Development Corporation to redevelop Pier 17 in the South Street Seaport Historic District. In 2008, the site’s former owner, General Growth Properties, proposed demolishing the Pier 17 mall, relocating the nearby Tin Building, and building a 495-foot residential/hotel tower on the edge of the pier that would be just outside the historic district’s boundaries. That proposal faced strong opposition from local elected officials and preservation groups. Landmarks held two meetings on the proposal, but then General Growth declared bankruptcy. Hughes’s more modest proposal would replace the existing Pier 17 mall with a new, similarly sized building that would reuse much of the mall’s underlying structure. Unlike the 2008 proposal, the project would not affect the adjacent Tin Building, former home of the Fulton Fish Market. The new building would house retail space, restaurants, and provide public space.
At an April 17, 2012 hearing, Hughes’s architect, SHoP Architects’ Gregg Pasquarelli, presented a design. Pasquarelli had been the lead designer on General Growth’s proposal, and worked on EDC’s Pier 15 project, which Landmarks approved in 2009. Pasquarelli criticized the existing mall’s “interior orientation,” and said he wanted to open up the new development and preserve the views of the Brooklyn Bridge. The plan called for a glass-clad structure matching the existing mall’s 75-foot height. The existing mall’s facade would be stripped away, but much of its underlying steel would be reused.
The building would provide space for two 60,000 square-foot retail tenants on the upper levels, with smaller stores and restaurants at the lower levels. Hughes would like to “activate” the building’s planted roof, possibly with a restaurant or a music venue. Open space at the bottom would provide several ways to view and pass through the building. A boat slip would be carved out of the middle of the building to recall that there were once two piers at the location.
The project would include 132,000 square feet of public space. Hughes plans to install a variety of seating, such as barstools, stepped bleachers, and rocking “gliders,” in the open space surrounding the building on the edge of the pier.
The adjacent Link Building, which is behind the mall and south of the Tin Building, would also be stripped down and clad in zinc to give it the appearance of an industrial waterfront building. Pasquarelli said he believed the building could be used as farmer’s market.
Manhattan Community Board 1, the Association for a Better New York, and the Alliance for Downtown New York supported the proposal. The Alliance for Downtown New York’s Connie Chung said the project would create needed publicly accessible space, attract foot traffic to the neighborhood, and boost sales tax revenue. Wallace Dimson, board president of the nearby Southbridge Towers, said that the project would be “a vast improvement” over what was there now.
Preservation groups, including the Historic Districts Council and the Society for the Architecture of the City, opposed the plan. The Historic Districts Council’s Nadezhda Williams testified that the project related more to the glassy buildings outside the historic district. A representative from the Municipal Art Society was generally supportive, but asked that it be modified to “modulate the large expanse of glass.” The New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Andrea Goldwyn was supportive of the new building, but asked Landmarks to be specific about what type of signage would be allowed on the site.
Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney expressed relief that the previously proposed project was not being replicated. Tierney said he had recently visited Pier 15, and found that the features he appreciated there had been brought to the Pier 17 plan. Commissioner Fred Bland found some aspects of the proposal troubling, but determined that a 150 percent increase in open space was “worth the trade.” Commissioner Michael Goldblum praised the design, but wanted to ensure that any signage would be minimal. Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea and Commissioner Margery Perlmutter acknowledged that the Hughes’s plan did not include the Tin Building, but they believed that any proposal for the site should take the structure into account. Tierney closed the hearing without calling for a vote.
Hughes returned to Landmarks on May 15, 2012. Pasquarelli testified that Hughes had decided to demolish a section of the Link Building in order to open up views of the Tin Building. Pasquarelli explained that they could not demolish more of the Link Building because electrical and water services were conveyed above ground through the building to the rest of the pier.
The revised plan included minimum and maximum glazing requirements for ground floor storefronts, as well as more specificity about what types of signs would be allowed on the new building. Pasquarelli said these changes would provide an appropriate amount of variation. He noted that Hughes intended to return to Landmarks at later date to discuss signage on the upper levels.
In response to questions about the future of the Tin Building, Hughes’s attorney, Kramer Levin’s Paul Selver, explained that the Tin Building was not part of Hughes’s current leasehold. Selver stated that Hughes had the option of expanding the lease to include the Tin Building in 2013, but Hughes had not decided whether it would exercise that option. Pasquarelli said he believed that the current project would not require or preclude the future integration of the Tin Building.
Commissioner Fred Bland still expressed some ambivalence about the proposal, finding a “reincarnated mall” a regrettable use for the site. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter said the project should do more to focus attention on the Tin Building. Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea said the revisions had improved the project, but he was concerned that visual corridors of the Brooklyn Bridge were too limited.
Chair Tierney found there was consensus to approve the project. Tierney directed Hughes to consult with Landmarks’ staff to identify a way to expand views of the bridge, further minimize the Link Building and better integrate the project into the waterfront esplanade.