Plans Revealed for Glass-Walled Replacement of Pier 17 Mall

In a room packed with local residents and Community Board 1 members, Howard Hughes Corp. executives publicly revealed on Thursday their long-awaited plans for redeveloping the Pier 17 mall at the South Street Seaport.

The reaction was overwhelming support.

“I think it’s a fantastic makeover from what is there presently,” board member Vera Sung said. “I can’t wait to go.”

The plans, which were presented to CB1’s Landmarks and Seaport Committees, call for replacing the current mall with a modern glass-walled, three-story structure complete with several outdoor public spaces, including a roof field and a 600-700 seat performance space that would be enclosed in the winter.

“We applaud the way you’ve designed this,” said board member Paul Hovitz. “There is going to be open space for public use, which is what we’ve been crying for.”

Greg Pasquarelli of SHoP Architects, who led the presentation, said his biggest criticism of the current Pier 17 building is that it obstructs views of the Brooklyn Bridge.

“We always felt it was very important to get view corridors through the building,” Pasquarelli  said.

Pasquarelli said the project will strip away much of the existing building, but use most of its existing steel. The ground floor would be open on all sides, but have glass doors that can swing down during cold months without obstructing river views. Cobblestone walkways will lend a street ambiance to the interior, the designers said. The new tenants would be a mix of shops and restaurants that Howard Hughes representatives say would appeal to both residents and tourists.

Landscape architect Lisa Tziona Switkin of James Corner Field Operations, the company that was the lead designer of the High Line, dubbed the north side of the pier, “the porch.” The firm plans to replace the present beer garden and beach with cobblestones, ground lighting, wooden glider seats and picnic benches. The area would be accessible directly from South Street—it can now only be reached by going through the mall or around the end of the pier.

The new designs would replace the beach on the north side of the mall with cobblestones and seating.
The new designs would replace the beach on the north side of the mall with cobblestones and seating.

The plans do not represent all the potential development that Howard Hughes Corp. can complete in the Seaport. Several CB1 members expressed concern that the developer has yet to reveal its plans for the two vacant Fish Market buildings that are owned by the city, but likely theirs to transform.

“I think it would be remiss of the committee to not point out the need for a master plan,” Landmarks Committee Chair Roger Byrom said, “but clearly the work is terrific.”

Perhaps most important to community board members, the designs do not include a high-rise tower—as did previous redevelopment plans by Howard Hughes Corp. predecessor, General Growth Properties. And the structure’s designs appears to leave little space on the pier for a highrise to be proposed in the future.

“This resolves that fear,” Landmarks Committee co-chair Bruce Ehrmann said.

According to Elise Quasebarth, a historical consultant hired by Howard Hughes Corp., the project will solve a disconnect between historic Schermerhorn Row area of the Seaport, and the Pier 17 mall, built in the 1980s.

“On the upland side, the district retains a really strong sense of history that interacts with the tourism and retail, but the Pier 17 building sort of lags behind that,” Quasebarth said. “We think this is an opportunity to bring it along.”

Curry said the pier, and the upland area of the Seaport under Howard Hughes’ control would feature a variety of new restaurants and shops, but he could not say how many or what. He did however, assure the board that the company would not rent to a big-box store such as K-Mart.

“We are looking for a tenant that would be consistent with the new image of this building,” he said.

Because the project requires both zoning changes and historic landmarks approval, Howard Hughes Corp. has a lengthy permit process awaiting them. The full Community Board will vote on the project at the end of the month. Then the plans will be brought to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission on April 17. If approved, the project will begin the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which takes about seven months to complete and requires City Council approval.

Howard Hughes Corp. hopes to begin work in 2013, completing the project it in 2015, Curry said.