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Landmarks Commission Praises Seaport Redevelopment Plan

By Julie Shapiro | April 17, 2012 8:41pm

LOWER MANHATTAN — A bold plan to transform the South Street Seaport's Pier 17 with new high-end shops and a rooftop music venue earned praise from the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission Tuesday afternoon.

While the commission did not take a vote at a hearing on the project, most of the commissioners gave the thumbs up to developer Howard Hughes' plan to gut the current Pier 17 mall and replace it with a modern all-glass structure topped by a green roof.

"There is substantial support certainly for the demolition [of the current building] and for this design," said Bob Tierney, the commission's chairman.

But Tierney and the commissioners also expressed several concerns about the details of the proposal, including fears that retail signage would overwhelm the new building's graceful glass facade and block views of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Howard Hughes and SHoP Architects will review the commissioner's comments and respond — possibly with an updated design — at another meeting soon, at which point the commission will vote on the project, Tierney said.

Howard Hughes hopes to begin construction in 2013 and reopen the pier in 2015, pending additional public approvals.

SHoP Architects' design replaces the current monolithic mall with an open structure that feels more like a natural streetscape, including small shops and restaurants separated by open-air corridors. Above those shops would sit two large 60,000-square-foot spaces, designed for anchor retail tenants. Glass garage-style doors would descend in bad weather to enclose the entire structure.

On the roof, a sloping public lawn would feed into a music venue inspired by the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home, which would open its doors in the summer to audiences of up to 2,000 people.

While SHoP designed the new building to be more transparent than the current mall and offer unblocked views of the Brooklyn Bridge, several commissioners worried that it would not succeed and asked SHoP to return with more specifics.

Some of the commissioners also worried that the plan does not address the historic but dilapidated Tin Building, which sits at the base of Pier 17 and is not included in the redevelopment.

"This is a missed opportunity," said Pablo Vengoechea, a member of the commission.

Tuesday's hearing also drew comments from local institutions, architects and residents, who were split on the project.

Some, including Wally Dimson, president of Southbridge Towers' board of directors, praised the overhaul and said they hoped the new design would enliven the area.

But some preservationists, including the Historic Districts Council, made the case for preserving the original 1985 mall building, designed by Benjamin Thompson, as a structure that has become in instantly recognizable New York icon.

Several commissioners said they were "torn" over the idea of tearing down the 27-year-old building, but they ultimately felt the new design was more contextually appropriate and the public would benefit by the addition of 46,000 square feet of open space.

"I don't think anyone denies something needs to be done at the South Street Seaport," Tierney said, "and I think this is an appropriate first step."