Commissioners at the Landmarks Preservation Commission asked the Howard Hughes Corp. for more details on plans to redevelop Pier 17 into a mall, citing concerns over the height of a canopy the developer wants to build on the roof.
Howard Hughes and SHoP architects want to build a retail and dining destination on the pier, which was demolished last year and is currently being rebuilt. The application before the LPC is technically a modification of a previously approved project, and involves demolishing the nearby Link Building, modifying an access road on the north side of the pier, and building a 30-foot tall glass pergola structure on the roof.
Pier 17 falls under the LPC’s purview as the boundary line of the South Street Seaport Historic District cuts right down the middle of the pier. Greg Pasquarelli, the presenting architect with SHoP Architects, said construction workers are still driving piles to construct the pier platform.
At the end of the hours-long hearing, commissioners encouraged Howard Hughes to address community and commission concerns over the height of the pergola and how it would affect views of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Seaport.
“One image that was not included in the applicant’s presentation is the view of the Brooklyn Bridge with this new pergola,” said Peter Davies, a 35-year resident who testified against the proposal. “It obliterates the view of the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Community members also expressed concern that the pier’s rooftop, billed by Howard Hughes as open space available to the public, would eventually be appropriated for mostly private events.
“The Howard Hughes Corporation is proposing a canopy for the roof of Pier 17 that will enable them to remake Pier 17 into the ‘world’s premier boutique entertainment venue,’ in their own words,” said Wallace Dimson, president of the board of directors at Southbridge Towers. “While they say they will also let the public utilize the roof as an open space, which we’d very much like, the reality is they have no legal obligation to open that space to the public and every legal right to program it as they please and schedule as many concerts and other noisy, disruptive events as they wish.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilmember Margaret Chin also registered their concern with the potential for private use of public space.
“We have heard a number of concerns from the community board regarding the impact of a rooftop canopy on the ability of an area of the rooftop to be rented out for private use, potentially reducing the number of days that area can be used for public use,” said Brewer and Chin in a joint statement.
Chris Curry, Howard Hughes’ senior VP for development, said only certain portions of the roof would be used for private events, and that the public would have access to other parts of the roof year round.
A handful of supporters testified in favor of the proposal, touting the number of jobs it would bring to the district. A representative of the Downtown Alliance, on behalf of alliance president Jessica Lappin, said Howard Hughes’ proposal would revitalize the district and generate tax revenue.
“New development will support the growth of local businesses and spur economic development for Lower Manhattan and our entire city,” said Lappin’s statement. “The plans before you would spur jobs in a variety of sectors and across wage brands for countless New Yorkers in construction, retail, hospitality and entertainment.”
In a statement provided to this newspaper, Curry said the company is reviewing the LPC’s input.
“We are processing the feedback we received from the Landmarks Preservation Commissioners and look forward to working with LPC staff to prepare a revised Pier 17 modification plan that responds to their comments,” he said.
Commissioners asked that Howard Hughes reexamine the appropriateness of the height of the pergola, and for more information on their plan for an access road on Pier 17. The LPC would also like more information on the company’s plans for the nearby Tin Building. While the LPC does not consider issues of use, such as public versus private, commission hearings are often used as a venue to air such grievances.
A number of preservationists and preservation groups also accused Howard Hughes of segmentation, presenting plans for Pier 17 separate from another proposal to redevelop the Seaport.
The most controversial aspect of that proposal is a residential tower the company wants to build on the site of the New Market Building adjacent to Pier 17, a plan that would render concerns about a canopy over Pier 17 blocking views of the Brooklyn Bridge obsolete.
Howard Hughes has spent much of the past two years in a deadlock with community stakeholders over its vision for the Seaport. The company maintains that small business owners and residents want to see the Seaport District revitalized after many years of neglect and stasis, and is offering a $300 million community benefits package that includes the creation of a public school, restoration of the Seaport and affordable housing, among other perks.
Last year, the company downsized its original residential tower proposal to around 40 stories, but continued to draw criticism from Community Board 1, elected officials and other community members, who expressed a desire that the company find a site outside of the Seaport for any residential building that would mar the district’s low-slung character.
Howard Hughes said revenue generated by the residential tower would pay for the restoration of the Seaport and the package of community benefits. Preservationists, local residents and elected officials, including Brewer and Chin, are interested in retaining and promoting the district’s maritime past and ensuring that the area isn’t given over to tourists and high-end housing.
Another hearing for the developer’s Pier 17 plan is in the works but has not yet been put on the calendar. The Seaport community is also waiting to see what Howard Hughes will come back with concerning their residential tower proposal.