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What Recession?

Consumers may be relieved that energy prices have fallen in step with the wider markets, but cheap oil has many environmentalists worried that the hard fought gains of the recent “green revolution” could be wiped out. As companies and consumers alike feel the pinch, there have been reports that hybrid cars and LEED ratings could become luxuries we can no longer afford. Fortunately for architects, many in the building industry seem to be drawing the opposite conclusion.

“So far, we haven’t seen any slowdown,” said Michelle Moore, senior vice president for policy and public affairs at the U.S. Green Building Council. “Our green buildings numbers are really strong, our membership numbers remain strong. In fact, we’re at record levels across the board, from registrations and certifications of projects to the number of people taking the LEED AP test. They’re all way up.”

The council is not the only one continuing to see growth in the face of a cooling construction market. In interviews with a number of architecture, development, and construction principals, the story was the same: There is no turning back. In fact, sustainability might be the industry’s salvation.

“Just because the credit is hard to find, you’re not going to build a bad building,” developer Douglas Durst said. “You’re not going to leave out an efficient HVAC system or a co-gen elevator. You’re still going to build that in because that is now what the market demands.”

As the man who was a driving force in bringing sustainable design to the city’s office market at 4 Times Square, Durst should know. He said that in this day and age, all the top tenants demand green projects, a fact the banks know, making financing such projects easier, not harder. With credit so difficult to come by, a few sustainable features or a LEED application may be the deciding factors on that eight-figure loan.

The same is true of housing, especially mixed-income and affordable housing projects. Jonathan Rose, president of the Jonathan Rose Companies, one of the city’s largest affordable housing developers, said that many financiers not only favor sustainable projects but often award more money to them, such as James Rouse’s Enterprise Community Partners. He also pointed to the special tax credits that are available. Rose said that because publicly funded housing is less susceptible to market swings, it will see continued investment, which translates to continued green growth.

Besides falling demand, the other complaint about green design is that it costs more, at least up front, an intolerable burden during a downturn. But just as demand has risen in recent years, so have costs fallen. “Green is still a good play, even in this market, because we have gotten the so-called cost burdens down to one or two percent, which is negligible,” said Michael Dean, chief sustainability officer at Turner Construction. Bruce Fowle, principal at FXFowle, said that a slowdown can give architects the time they need to devise new, cheaper, and smarter sustainable solutions that do not raise costs.

The one area where there could be some decline is on the bleeding edge of the industry, where cost still drives innovation. “You might not see as many photovoltaics or integrated wind turbines or other bells and whistles,” Durst said, “but that doesn’t mean the projects will be any less green.” He predicted any lag in technical development would last no longer than the recession itself, and might subside sooner.

One area where such high-level design could see a boost is from Washington. President-elect Barack Obama trumpeted “green collar” jobs on the campaign trail as a way to revive the country’s moribund industrial sector, a commitment that could feed into more R&D for sustainable building technology and construction methods. “You can’t outsource this stuff,” Dean said.

In many respects, the Feds have fallen behind state and local governments, which have begun to find creative ways to require projects, and particularly those drawing public money, to go green. New York, California, and Washington are among a number of states requiring all government buildings to achieve some level of green certification, usually LEED Silver.

New York City now makes the same requirement of any cultural institution using more than $2 million in city funds. Schools have also taken up the banner because of the desire to provide healthy environments for children.

Lately, the U.S. Green Building Council has put its weight behind rehabilitation work, something it sees as especially viable during a recession. “This is an incredible opportunity for the industry to turn its focus to existing buildings,” she said. “In any given year, new construction makes up only 10 percent of the overall building stock. But now, there will be fewer people building but just as many people wanting sustainable living or working environments. We hope architects will respond accordingly.”

As they should, Rose said, since sustainable work can help insulate companies from future downturns. He cited the Vance Building, a green office renovation his firm undertook in Seattle, which raised its occupancy rate from 68 to 96 percent, even with a significant rent increase.

Between traditional and sustainable work, architects involved with both said that those projects boasting green features seemed to be doing better at the moment, too. George Miller, president-elect for the AIA, said he had heard as much from a number of his colleagues; it is also the case at his firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, where nearly every project has some sustainable feature. “Everyone’s looking for it, and they will continue to do so, no matter what,” he said.

And deep down, the name says it all. “One hopes this isn’t a movement tied to boom and bust cycles,” said Colin Cathcart of Kiss+Cathcart, Architects. “One hopes that sustainability actually promotes sustainability.”

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Fair Trade
The rebuilt High School of Art and Design will sit within SOM's one-million-square-foot, mixed-use complex.
Courtesy SOM

Even in flush times, the New York City public school system has capital needs that far outstrip its budgets, and so for several years now, the School Construction Authority has been looking at its biggest asset: the 1.5 acres of land under the schools themselves. At 250 East 57th Street, on a site that used to hold P.S. 59 and the venerable High School of Art and Design, work has begun on the first phase of a one-million-square-foot complex that will house the rebuilt schools, as well as housing and retail. Roger Duffy, the lead architect at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, explained the logic of the idea: “A lot of school sites in New York remain underdeveloped in terms of FAR (floor-area ratio).”

In exchange for the right to create a lucrative mixed-use development on the block-through parcel, developer World Wide Holdings negotiated a deal with the State Board of Education to rebuild and enlarge both schools on the site. In addition to lease payments, a PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Tax) scheme will contribute additional funds to other education programs across the city.

Construction will occur in two phases, with the retail levels and a significantly enlarged P.S. 59 emerging first. A 59-story residential tower and new High School of Art and Design will follow in an estimated four years.

One of the more appealing features of the design is the large Astroturf play area on top of the building’s retail plinth. There are six outdoor terraces, each catering to a different age group—which are unusually generous outdoor provisions for a public school in Manhattan. The second phase will see the rise of a concertina-like 59-story glazed tower, housing 320 apartments and condos; 20 percent of the units will be affordable, with another 30 affordable units built off-site.

This type of partnership has been growing more common in recent years and is not without its critics, but in a time of chronic budget shortfalls, Duffy sees it as an avenue worth exploring. “The involvement of private developers needs to be composed in an intelligent way to create leverage [for the school system],” he said. “But there is also a need to bring the public and private sectors together.”


The project's first phase will include an enlarged P.S. 59.
All images courtesy SOM

 

Generous outdoor terraces are designed to serve different age groups of students.
 
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Times Square Shuffle
Emile Wamsteker

Times Square’s new TKTS booth, which officially opened on October 17 in Duffy Square, is an object lesson in how things get done in New York. The new structure replaces a rickety affair of canvas and metal rods put up in 1973 that was supposed to fold up in a few months; it overstayed its welcome by more than thirty years.

Eight years ago, the Van Alen Institute sponsored a competition to design a new booth, and the winner was the Australian firm of Choi Ropiha. As so often in New York, out-of-towners were responsible for the basic concept, yet the actual design was farmed out to Nicolas Leahy of Perkins Eastman, the well-known local firm, who worked with engineers Dewhurst Macfarlane.

Also as usual, the architects had to serve different and competing masters: the Times Square Alliance, the Theatre Development Fund, the Coalition for Father Duffy, and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Due to difficulties in engineering the red glass that serves as seating atop the project’s relatively modest structure, what was supposed to be a six-month job extended to nearly three years, and, at $19 million, came in nine times over budget.

The design of the structure and its surrounding space is a partial success. The booth, which houses the ticket counters and is encased in glass, vaguely recalls naval architecture. It is an elegant invocation of the machine aesthetic, even if, at this point, the truculent honesty of exposing a building’s mechanical core has become almost a cliché. But at night, when its roof of bright red steps (which can seat as many as 1,500) is illuminated from below, such quibbles seem trivial.

The square itself is less successful. Two crooked arms, forming continuous granite benches, extend from the ticketing booths into the surrounding space, but they make little structural, utilitarian, or visual sense. Meanwhile, unavoidably, a good part of the plaza is covered in subway grates. Most disconcerting of all, because of the intransigence of the Coalition for Father Duffy (the World War I chaplain for whom the square was named) his statue could not be moved, and now sullenly turns its back on the tourists who, as though by some gravitational attraction, naturally gather at the top of the steps.

What ultimately redeems this project (if redemption were needed) is the urbanistic triumph that it represents. It is not an exaggeration to say that Times Square itself is transformed by this new addition. What used to be a zone through which one only passed has now become a space in which to pause and sit. With all the lights of Times Square buzzing and beeping around you, it feels rather more like Piccadilly Circus than anyone would ever have thought. As you stand at the summit of the steps, you may well believe that, finally, you are seeing the place for the first time.
 


The ticket booths themselves are tucked under the stair ramp (above); Father Duffy's statue is back in place (below).
Emile Wamsteker
 

Editorial: Onward and Upward

It’s hard to believe, but America’s first architectural broadsheet has published its 100th issue. Since our debut on November 10, 2003, our determination to deliver architects the news they need with speed and sophistication has only redoubled, along with our size and our staff. With an eye on the central place that British weeklies such as Building Design hold in the architectural discourse over there, we wanted to address the immediate interests and concerns of practitioners in New York with news that was quick, on-the-spot, and opinionated.

One of the reasons we’ve grown and changed is that the architecture community has also undergone a transformation. In our first 16-page issue, we pointed out that while “barely a day passes that a design-related WTC story does not appear in the local press…little other architecture news is reported in general.” Five years ago, Ground Zero and the politics surrounding it were daily preoccupations for many in the field; we wanted to broaden the conversation. Since then, we’ve covered the dramatic impact of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s neighborhood rezonings, and the struggles over the biggest projects the city has seen in decades, from the Atlantic Yards to Hudson Yards. We looked at the towers that have sprung up on seemingly every available site, and talked to the architects who designed them and the developers who created them. We’ve interviewed icons like Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, and introduced you to tomorrow’s stars.

While the city’s architecture community and its concerns will keep on evolving, we believe this is still true: “This community is not easy to pin down, we recognize. As all other industries clearly understand, a timely, reliable news source can be crucial to business as well as to fostering a healthy sense of community and competition.” Many of you agreed: Readers regularly tell us that AN fills a need that they didn’t know existed. Others tell us that we’ve helped forge a more cohesive and informed community of architects, designers, and urban planners, and that while they subscribe to other magazines and journals, it is ours that they actually read, cover to cover.

Our original intention to create a local news source quickly spread beyond city limits to encompass the entire Northeast. In 2006, we launched in California, and in the next year, we plan to be in the Midwest, too. We want to keep apace in meeting ever-higher expectations from readers and from ourselves. Today, we bring you news about projects, financing, practitioners, ideas—and of course gossip—across several platforms, including an enhanced website and a blog launched in September at the Venice Biennale.

Conversations with our readers have always been a crucial part of our process at AN, and they shape the news we put in every issue. We want your input and look forward to hear ing from you about the paper—its look, its content, its cultural coverage—and how we can better connect with the architectural community. So we hope you will join us in this celebration and in our mission to keep you at the very center of the loop. Over our first 100 issues, we’ve changed and grown along with the architecture community, and we’re looking forward to keeping up with even more!

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Crumbling Concrete
Yesterday, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau served an indictment against a dozen employees of a concrete inspection company, which the DA cited for improperly inspecting at least 102 buildings in the city in recent years. According to the Times' account, Testwell, of Ossinning, New York, was "the city's leading concrete-testing firm." AN picked up a copy of the indictment today, and how right the paper of record is. What is striking is the number and range of projects Testwell touched--or didn't, as the case may be. The Times notes three--the Freedom Tower, new Yankees Stadium, and the Gensler-designed Terminal 5 for Jet Blue--and adds that city officials believe all projects to be safe, though the quality of the concrete may be inferior and thus have a shorter lifespan. But the other 99 projects are not just faceless outer borough in-fill. 7 World Trade Center is there, as are a number of high profile projects, including Norman Foster's Hearst Building, Frank Gehry's Beekman Place tower, Polshek's Brooklyn Museum Expansion, FXFowle's One Bryant Park and 11 Times Square, KPF's Goldman Sachs HQ in Batter Park City, and the new Greek and Roman Gallery's at the Met by Beyer Blinder Belle. (The indictment [we've linked a PDF of the list below] lists the gallery as MoMA, but that can't be right. Not surprisingly, roughly half the projects are nondescript luxury condo projects--10 Barclay, 150 Lafeyette, 801 Amsterdam, Latitude Riverdale--not unlike the majority of construction work in the city during the recent boom. A number of government projects, big and small, local and federal, are listed, including Brooklyn Borough Hall, I.S. 303, Thurgood Marshall Federal Courthouse, as well as a number of collegiate buildings. Perhaps most unsettling, safe or otherwise, are the infrastructure projects the company worked on, such as the Second Avenue subway, New Rochelle MetroNorth station, and, scariest of all, the deck replacement of the Triborough Bridge. There are a few oddballs, too:the USS Intrepid's refurbished Pier 86, the Pier 90 cruise terminal, the massive Xanadu commercial complex at the Meadowlands. The Testwell 102
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Cutting the Nets?
At Monday's Coney Island charrette kick-off, hosted by the Municipal Art Society, a number of stakeholders from the area gave presentations to the design team to help them form ideas for leading the charrette in a few weeks. (To share your own, visit the imagineconey.com, which just launched today.) One of the presentations was given by Jon Benguiat, the director of planning and development for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who spoke about Asser Levy Park, a small outdoor amphitheater and park across Surf Avenue from the aquarium, which is getting a dramatic $64 million retractable roof courtesy of Grimshaw. (More on that soon, we hope.) As with all these things, there was a Power Point presentation, and as with all Power Point presentations, the whole thing took some time to boot up. In the interim, Benguiat decided to tell the story of how he became Marty's planning direct, during which he let some shocking news about the Atlantic Yards, or at least the fate of the Brooklyn Nets, slide. But first a caveat: We had considered letting this news go on Monday, in light of the off-hand circumstances and the fact that AN is not one for "gotcha journalism." After all, it would not come as a surprise to most people following the project that it is in trouble, what with Forect City's stock plummeting, its credit rating following suit, and, speaking of suit's, DDDB's got picked up by the state appeals court. Granted the IRS ruled in Bruce Ratner's favor on some tax-exempt bonds, but that's got to be small consolation. However, when reports about the possible sale or relocation of the Nets began to circulate the past two days, as Atlantic Yards watchdog Norman Oder has pointed out, we felt it out duty to relay Benguiat's words. Waiting on Monday for the projector to warm up, Benguiat told the crowd that, when Marty got elected, he had served as the previous borough president's director of land use. Asking if Markowitz was looking for one, the beep-to-be said no, but he did need a director of planning. "Without even thinking about it, I said yes," Benguiat said. "Then I spent the whole night fretting, wondering what I'd gotten myself into." Benguiat said his anxiety only grew when he showed up for the first day of work and Markowitz rattled off the list of initiatives he hoped to pursue: the revival of Coney Island, return of pro sports to the borough, realization of Brooklyn Bridge Park, and redevelopment of the Greenpoint/Williamsburg waterfront. "I won't repeat all the expletives I spewed when I heard this," Benguiat said. "But here we are, nearly all of them complete. I'm not sure if we're going to get the Nets or not. We should have groundbreaking in December, but we'll see." How much Benguiat knows--even Ratner has admitted that the groundbreaking will likely be pushed back due to the lawsuit--is uncertain, but his statement is one of the most dire to come out of the Markowitz administration, which is uniformly unwavering in its support for the project, no matter the legal or financial circumstances. Asked to clarify his comments afterwards, Benguiat declined to comment, instead directing AN to the borough president's press office, which released the following statement from Markowitz:
The current state of the American economy underscores the importance of moving ahead with projects like Atlantic Yards, and I am confident the project will happen. It will create union jobs and much-needed affordable housing, as well as bring professional sports back to Downtown Brooklyn—becoming just the kind of investment magnet that Brooklyn and New York City need right now
Now that the team is in doubt, would the Atlantic Yards project still enjoy the full support of the borough president without one of its foremost reasons for being? Markowitz's office has yet to respond on that front. No word yet from Forest City Ratner, either.

Eavesdrop

ARCHITECTS FOR OBAMA

Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, and Sharon Johnston were among those scheduled to join Hillary Clinton at “Angelenos Go Green for Obama,” a $500-ticket carbon-neutral fundraiser at steampunk wonderland The Edison on October 4. But Gehry actually gave an even bigger chunk of change to Barack Obama over a year ago, bolstered by additional contributions from his wife Berta. In fact, when it comes to (mostly blue) support from California architects, Gwynne Pugh, Kevin Daly, Barbara Bestor, Frank Escher, Steven Kanner, Rob Quigley, Olivier Touraine, and Anne Fougeron to name a few, are all in the tank with Obama. However, across the board it’s not a resounding “O”: Craig Hartman gave his big bucks to Hillary Clinton, as did Michael Lehrer and Brenda Levin, while Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner both donated to John Edwards’ campaign last year.

TROUBLE ON THE HOME FRONT?

We recently got our grubby hands on a mockup of the new magazine Homefront LA, planning a January debut. It promises to go “beyond architecture, home design and real estate to feature people who have a passion for the everyday luxury of home” in the midst of a mortgage crisis. Homefront LA is the baby of the young JD McRae, who touts himself as a “third generation publisher whose family owns about 45 other publications,” thanks to his grandfather George Sample, a journalist and newspaper owner who died in June of this year. But staff shuffles and logistical issues have already plagued the start-up. Once named on the website as editor-in-chief, former House Beautiful EIC Mark Mayfield balked at the move to LA and opted to stay in New York instead with an editor-at-large title, so the mag tapped Michael Cannell for the top gig. Although Cannell recently left his online editorial director role at Dwell, we hear he, too is going to stay in NY, commuting every few weeks to the Beverly Hilton. We guess writing about “the unique, exciting lifestyle of Angelenos at home” doesn’t require you to be one. At least one of the mostly NY-transplants, executive editor Deborah Schoeneman, lives here, and is best known around town for her salacious gossip industry novel, 4% Famous—sigh, a woman after our own heart! 
 

ECONOMIC BAILOUTS

Things are rough everywhere, so we hear. Not the best time to be putting Craig Ellwood’s famous Daphne House in Hillsborough, California on the market for the first time since it was completed in 1961. The San Mateo county steel-beam and glass construction features a 3,700-square-foot open plan around a central courtyard pool for a cool $3.7 million. Yet, according to realtor Jim Arbeed, a sale is pending … Speaking of San Francisco sales, we have it on good faith that local firm SMWM is about to be acquired. The rumored suitor? Drumroll, please: Perkins+Will.

Send tips, gossip, and earmarks to slubell@archpaper.com.

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A Prospective Landmark or Three
Courtesy Landmarks preservation commission

Talk about a busy day. Following a meeting at the New School yesterday morning, for what many members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission called their hardest decision ever—voting on the demolition of Albert Ledner’s National Maritime Union in favor of a hospital—the commissioners then had to hustle downtown for a full day of work. Fortunately for them, this included the first hearing on the proposed Prospect Heights Historic District and the designation of two considerable landmarks—decidedly happier occasions than overseeing the demise of one of the city’s most unique buildings.

Unlike the highly divided vote on St. Vincent’s, and the divisive hearings that preceded it, all 27 speakers were in favor of designating Prospect Heights. “Brooklyn will breath a sigh of relief if Prospect Heights can be designated,” Christabel Gough, secretary for the Society of the Architecture of the City, said in her testimony, adding that the neighborhood was “due for Manhattanization, if present trends continue, and the city does not act soon.”

Indeed, development, and particularly the Atlantic Yards project to the proposed district’s north, were seen as the primary threats to Prospect Height’s preservation. Some speakers even pointed out that a small section of the neighborhood that falls within the Atlantic Yards footprint had been left out of the proposal. (Asked for comment, a commission spokesperson had not yet responded at the time of this story’s publication.)

With about 870 properties in the district, it would become the second largest in the borough and largest designated in 18 years. In its designation report, the commission lauds the neighborhood for its distinctive, cohesive mix of masonry rowhouses, many rendered in brownstone, that incorporate Neo-Classical, Renaissance Revival, and Romanesque Revival styles.

Letitia James, the local council representative, said the neighborhood had been under development pressure for more than a decade, and so it was time for the commission to act. “This area has already suffered from the demolition of historic buildings and out-of-scale construction,” she said. “The loss of more of our past, this fabric of our historic neighborhoods, will be prevented with this historic designation.”

Marty Markowitz, the borough president and Atlantic Yards booster agreed with James, a usual adversary. “The better Prospect Heights does, the better it is for all of Brooklyn,” he declared. Other supporters included the local community board, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, Crown Heights North Association, Vanderbilt Avenue Merchants District, Municipal Arts Society, Historic Districts Council, and more than a dozen residents.

The commission also designated two individual landmarks, the St. Stephen’s Church in Murray Hill and the former F.W. Devoe & Company factory in Greenwich Village. The church, completed in 1854 in the Romanesque Revival style by architect James Renwick Jr., is located at 151 East 28th Street and was once the largest Roman Catholic church in the city, boasting 28,000 parishioners. “St. Stephen’s restrained, elegant, design belies the powerful influence its congregation and pastors wielded in the closing decades of the 19th century,” commission chair Robert Tierney said.

Founded in 1754, F.W. Devoe and Company, a producer of oil- and varnish-based paints, built its five-story factory at 110-112 Horatio Street in 1883-1883. “Like so many other factory buildings the commission has designated, the Devoe factory vividly recalls New York City’s industrial past,” Tierney said. Because the number of factory buildings remaining in the Far West Village has dwindled in recent years, the commission was especially interested in preserving this terra cotta gem.

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Seaport Thwart
SHoP Architects/Courtesy General Growth Properties

The most talked-about part of General Growth Properties’ recent presentation to the Landmarks Preservation Commission of a proposal for a mixed-use development at South Street Seaport doesn’t even fall under the LPC’s jurisdiction: A 495-foot-tall hotel/condo tower that is the most visible part of SHoP Architects' design for GGP sits just outside of the historic district. What was on the agenda at the spirited October 21 hearing, however, was the overall appropriateness of the project—which includes four two-story retail buildings, a department store, and other uses on Pier 17—along with a proposal to relocate the Tin Building, the only historic structure in GGP’s plan.

That naturally didn’t stop preservationists from commenting on it, however: “The new tower will have a huge negative impact on the historic district,” Frank Sanchis, senior vice-president at the Municipal Art Society, told the commission. “The new construction would completely wall in the seaport at the waterside with a 42-story skyscraper.”

And so with the tower looming over the proceedings, the rest of the hearing revolved around the relocation of the historic Tin Building and the overall merits of the project. GGP’s proposal for the Seaport involves removing the 1982 mall and replacing it with a series of smaller buildings for retail and hospitality, moving the Tin Building to the edge of Pier 17, and building the residential and hotel tower. The new construction would sit in a series of public spaces and promenades.

The designers argued repeatedly that moving the Tin Building to the end of the pier and out from under FDR Drive would not only give it pride of place within the new development but restore it to its rightful historical site on the waterfront, which was blocked when Piers 17 and 18 were filled in to make way for the mall. “The significance of historic buildings partly resides in their historic context, which, over the years, has been lost to the Tin Building,” said Elise Quasebarth, principal of preservation consultancy Higgins & Quasebarth. Moving the building would also allow for a seamless connection to the East River Esplanade, another SHoP project.

The Tin Building was heavily damaged in a 1995 fire, and little of the existing structure is original. The team argued that this meant there is little of true historic value to displace. “The property owner’s and our intent is to take unprecedented steps in the recreation of the building,” said Richard Pieper, director of preservation at preservation architects Jan Hird Pokorny Associates.

While many of the preservationists did applaud the restoration efforts being put into the project—as well as GGP’s outreach in sharing the project with them during its development—they still took issue with the decision to move the Tin Building. “That so little of the original structure remains is all the more reason to leave it where it is,” Andrea Goldwyn of the Landmarks Conservancy said. “Its historic location is all that’s left of its historic role.”

Some also pointed to the dangerous precedent such a move could set. “Simply put, a building in a New York City historic district has never been relocated,” Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, said. He noted that a handful of individual landmarks had been moved to prevent their demolition, but never to satisfy a developer, something he and others said would become common practice if it were allowed here.

After the hearing, Gregg Pasquarelli, a principal at project architect SHoP Architects, told AN that it was about striking the right balance between reverent preservation and a successful plan to revive the neighborhood. “It’s a matter of understanding the trade-offs,” he said.

In the end, the project may come down to a question of economics. The development team, whose proposal has the imprimatur of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, said that it does not wish to ignore the seaport’s historic value, but that something must be done to revive it and make it enticing to locals as well as tourists.

“The South Street Seaport has been an underutilized part of Lower Manhattan for years, slowing its growth and holding the area back from the renaissance it deserves,” said John Skillman, a representative of the Partnership for New York City. Skillman and others said the new development would offer much needed amenities, like grocery stores and locally owned businesses, cultural and recreational space, and a Bryant Park–sized public plaza adjacent to the Tin Building.

Local City Council member Alan Gerson, the one person who could vote down the commission’s decision, expressed serious reservations about the project. “I remain willing and available to work with General Growth and the community to come up with a redevelopment plan that meets the financial needs of General Growth without obliterating the charm and history of this unique district and further separating our citizens from their own waterfront.”

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Waterfalls of Revenue
Though some people were more than happy to see Olafur Eliasson's New York City Waterfalls dry up a few weeks ago, one person who will dearly miss them is the mayor. Standing beneath the Scandinavian artist's massive mirror installation at P.S. 1 yesterday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced with great excitement that, according to a study undertaken by the city's Economic Development Corporation, the falls generated $69 million in economic activity, exceeding the $55 million initially expected and countering criticism that the $15 million project was wasteful. "Art also has the power to invigorate neighborhoods, as you know, and catalyze new investment" Bloomberg said. "That's why we've made investing in culture a major part of our efforts to diversify the economy." He added that this would be especially important in the wake of the collapsing financial sector--long the bedrock of the local economy. While it will likely never reap the dividends Wall Street once did, it is good to know we can put our art to work for us, rather than simply embracing art for art's sake. Other findings of the report include:
  • An estimated 1.4 million people visited the Waterfalls in the 13 weeks it was up this summer. Of those, 79,200 would not have visited the city or otherwise extended their trip, and 590,000 people from the metropolitan area made special trips to view the falls. They drew people from all 50 states and 55 countries.
  • As part of the administration's plan to revitalize the Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfronts, 23 percent of visitors, or 320,000 people, visited those areas for the first time. Of them, 44,500 were residents of the five boroughs.
  • About 95 percent of all out-of-town Waterfalls viewers participated in at least one other cultural attraction during their stay. About 43 percent of visitors attended one or more Broadway shows; 42 percent attended a visual art, photography, or design museum; 34 percent visited a history museum; and nearly 27 percent viewed a public art installation other than the Waterfalls.
  • Circle Line Downtown offered between 25 and 30 tours a day, with sell-outs on many tours, particularly during its evening cruises. Between June 26 and October 13, more than 213,000 passengers bought tickets for Circle Line Downtown's Waterfalls tour, Zephyr and Shark boat tours that all went past the Waterfalls.
  • The Public Art Fund's official Waterfalls website, nycwaterfalls.org, received more than 512,000 visits between January and October 2008. More than 6,000 photographs were posted to Flickr, 1,200 blog posts were written, and 200 videos with 235,000 viewers uploaded to YouTube. [Here's a personal favorite because, you know, who doesn't love models.]
  The full report [PDF] Video of the press conference
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On the Right Track
Barack Obama is one of a growing number of U.S. politicians who support increasing the nation's use of mass transit.
Courtesy Obama for America

Yesterday, President Bush signed into law the first Amtrak five-year reauthorization bill since 2002. The bill had long been delayed, but thanks to the rising price of fuel and record ridership, Republican opposition to the money-losing railroad slackened. The $12 billion set aside in the bill nearly doubles the Amtrak budget. Furthermore, it has provisions for two $1.5 billion grants, one to promote high-speed rail, and the other inter-city rail. (Both could be a big boon for AN’s New York and California readers.)

But the most significant part of the bill may not yet be on the books: Congress’ growing interest in funding mass transit. With the five-year surface transit bill, which funds 95 percent of transportation infrastructure in the country, due up for reauthorization next year, the nation could be looking at a landmark shift in where and how it travels the country.

“We think, and we’re getting reception for this on the Hill, too, that the 1950s highway-based transportation system has run its course,” said Daniel Goldberg, communications director for Transportation for America, a mass-transit and transit oriented development group.

As gas prices skyrocketed over the past year, mass-transit ridership increased by more than 5 percent, a record expansion, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Though oil has tumbled recently, in step with the rest of the economy, politicians and the public are increasingly aware of factors like congestion and the environment that should continue to boost support for mass transit programs at the federal level.

“I think [the Amtrak Bill] indicates a recognition out there between the impact of fuel but also the environment and congestion,” Paul Dean, director of government affairs for the American Public Transportation Association, said. “Especially on short haul trips—under 500 miles—from metropolitan area to metropolitan area, rail and other mass-transit programs can have a huge impact. Just look at how bad the New York airports have gotten. A reliable train network linking the city to others in the region could be a big boon. Plus, there’s no wading through security.”

Though Congress may be more concerned at the moment with the saving Wall Street and Main Street than the streets themselves, transit advocates like House Transportation Committee chair James Oberstar have expressed a commitment to pushing the surface transit bill in new directions. “Chairman Oberstar has said he’s not going to break the mold on this bill, but he’s certainly moving away from past models and trends,” Jim Berard, the committee communications director, said.

Historically, the surface transportation bill splits roughly 80/20 between highways and transit. Berard refused to make specific predictions, but said he would not be surprised to see that ratio shift in favor of more mass transit. “We’re seeing more interest than we ever have before,” he said. Should Democrats secure greater control of both houses, as has been predicted, it will only boost these efforts. But, Berard added, “the timing really couldn’t be worse.”

The vast majority of funding for surface transportation comes from the highway trust fund, which is funded entirely by the federal gas tax. It follows that if Americans continue to moderate their driving, there will be less money to pay for the transit expansion just at the same time demand is rising for it. (Some hope could come from the sale of carbon credits under a cap-and-trade system, but that remains years, or at least an election, away.)

Another pothole is all the potholes. The nation’s physical infrastructure is crumbling, made fatally clear by last year’s devastating bridge collapse in Minneapolis. With both transit and infrastructure programs drawing from the same trust fund, it could create a shortage for both.

But the crisis has already presented a new opportunity. “It’s become the accepted wisdom that part of the solution is public transit spending,” Dean said. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested as much in recent stimulus package (first item), and Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is a longstanding advocate of rail programs and infrastructure investment; he has reiterated his commitment to linking the two in stump speeches and bebates. “Overall,” Dean said, “our support on the Hill is at an all-time high.”

Eavesdrop: Anne Guiney

THROUGH A GLASS QUEASILY

Money is on everybody’s mind, but we just had a dizzying experience that provided some consolation regarding how little of it we have. The launch party for this year’s Open House New York was held at the penthouse of Enrique Norten’s almost-complete One York, right at the edge of the scenic Holland Tunnel. We went to go take in the views on the glassy 14th-floor terrace when we were struck with a bout of vertigo so strong we were rendered speechless. We put on our best grimace-grin, gripped the wall, and tried a little liquid courage of the merlot variety, but to no avail. We think we saw MoMA’s Barry Bergdoll making the rounds, and Norten himself was apparently moving in that same day, but it could have been the googly eyes. For the sake of the future inhabitants, we hope the apartment’s $37 million asking price includes a lifetime supply of Dramamine. 

THE BRIDE WORE GOLD AND THE GROOM WORE PUCCI

Well, at least a really swirly tie: Congratulations to Gia Wolff and John Hartmann, who got married on a recent sunny Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn. Wolff, who works at David Adjaye’s New York office, and Hartmann, a partner in the Dumbo firm Freecell, were cheered on by family, friends, and colleagues including Vito Acconci, the groom’s partner Lauren Crahan, the bride’s uncle David Wolff (a London architect working on Madonna’s house there), artist Allan Wexler, designer Jonathan Jackson, and Giuseppe Lignano and Ada Tolla of LOT-EK. Other than a very elegant and spare huppah, the only giveaway that these nuptials were heavy on the architecture were the home-made centerpieces featuring a spinning globe of chrysanthemums lit by an LED mesh. There was some puzzlement as to what, exactly, they were: hidden video cameras that would take movies in the round? Mobile breathalyzers? They were just decorative, however, which suits us fine: At the end of the evening, we made off with three of them. 

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