The PoMo aficionados were out in force at yesterday’s Landmarks Preservation hearing for the new proposal for South Street Seaport’s Pier 17. It would seem that just as debate on the value of 1970s Brutalism shifts into high gear, the 1980s PoMo crowd is revving its engines. As preservationists and developers whacked it out, some larger questions about context and neighborhood integration arose.
The SHoP-designed tectonic glass response to Ben Thompson’s wood-clad gables of the exiting 1985 Pier 17 building is a clear break from the past, both literally and figuratively. SHoP’s Gregg Pasquarelli didn’t mince words when he told the New York Times “We’re taking away the po-mo and making it a real waterfront market building.” But Thompson, who died in 2002, had plenty of defenders on hand yesterday, including a statement from his wife Jane Thompson, who warned that real estate in the new plan “will inevitably rise to premium rates; privatization will intensify, which forces a turn to luxury retail.”
Elise Quasebarth, of the preservation consultancy group Higgins Quasebarth, testified on behalf of Howard Hughes Corporation, the developer, that many of the upland elements planned in conjunction with the 1980s “festival marketplace” are still fundamentally robust. The SHoP worked with James Corner Field Operations to further integrate the street grid through a north-south connection to the East River Waterfront Esplanade and east-west connections to Beekman and Fulton streets.
But the deal between NYC Economic Development Corporation and Howard Hughes has a distinct cutoff point at the so-called Tin Building. The empty 1907 structure, which formerly housed a market, sits at the river’s edge where the pier juts into the river. Though the plan has the support of Community Board 1, the board did encourage a master plan that carries through the entire South Street Seaport Historic District. Further complicating matters, the district actually cuts through half of Pier 17. The board resolved the districting by extending the boundary to incorporate the north section of the pier as well.
The concern was driven home by local wine merchant Marco Pasanella who testified that the uplands should be considered as part and parcel pier plan and that only a “holistic” approach would work, particularly while the pier is under construction. Pasanella said the big picture should ensure that the plan attract similar tenants and “the right sort of visitors.”
Speaking on behalf of the Howard Hugh’s Corporation, senior executive vice president Chris Curry said the taking the nearby elements into account, particularly the Tin Building, would require a separate ULURP. He added that the company wants to make an immediate investment, though that wouldn’t preclude additional investments down the line. For the time being however, the cutoff point leaves a few of Thompson’s gables left at the back of the pier. Pasquarelli said they would be painted a uniform color to visually drop away. The gables would still function as a mask for mechanical equipment. If all goes as planned, a little slice of PoMo might survive after all.