Plans for redevelopment in the South Seaport Historic District moved forward this week. Last Tuesday, April 17, the Landmarks Preservation Commission met to hear proposals regarding the Howard Hughes Corporation’s design for a new shopping area on Pier 17.
“No final decision was made at the hearing,” said Lisi de Bourbon, a spokesperson for the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). “But the commissioners were favorably disposed toward the design, and they received the proposal well.”
The retail area in the South Street Seaport Historic District has a long history with New Yorkers. Twenty-seven years ago, Howard Hughes Corp. opened a large shopping mall opened on Pier 17. But despite hopes for the design’s ability to attract local shoppers and visiting tourists, they found it difficult to generate necessary profits, according to representatives at the meeting.
Now, the corporation, with SHoP Architects and the landscape design architecture firm James Corner Field Operations, wants to demolish the mall and replace it with a glass-covered building containing two 60,000-square-foot sales floors. The design is built around a “natural” plan, with wide, open-air spaces between shops and restaurants.
The company hopes to begin construction in 2013, with the pier opening in 2015.
According to LPC Chairman Bob Tierney, there is “support for the demolition…and for this design.”
In a prepared statement, Chris Curry, senior executive vice president of development for Howard Hughes, said the company’s design “balances the pier’s iconic waterfront location with its unique ability to provide a much-needed community hub for the rapidly growing residential population in Lower Manhattan.”
Nevertheless, concerns were raised at the meeting. These included fears that retail signage would block views of the Brooklyn Bridge and obstruct the glass façade of the proposed structure.
“The commission was actually concerned with the transparency of the new structure,” de Bourbon said. “The commission worried that the way the interior was arranged, and the design of the glass structure, would block the new building from sight.”
As it stands, another public meeting will have to take place before final decisions can be made, for which Howard Hughes and SHoP Architects will come up with an updated design. De Bourbon noted the meeting could take place within the next few months, and hoped the concerns would be addressed at that time.
De Bourbon said the commission wants “to get a clearer sense from [Howard Hughes] about their plans for dealing with these problems in future meetings with the Commission.”
Certain preservationists also expressed concerns. In a prepared statement, Jane Thompson of the Historic Districts Council, a preservation advocacy group, proposed that the mall at Pier 17 be renovated, not demolished and redesigned entirely. Thompson and her husband, Benjamin C. Thompson, took part in the original Pier 17 design in 1987.
Still, Tierney was supportive of the possibility of changes to Pier 17, saying that the Hughes Corporation’s plans signaled “an appropriate first step.”
By Courtney M. Holbrook
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