Posts tagged with "Water Street":

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Water Street public space is one city vote away from a private retail takeover

In lower Manhattan, a prominent developer wants to convert a public space into private retail, and the city is at least a week away from a vote that could allow the project to move forward. Rockrose Development's bid to completely enclose and privatize the arcade at 200 Water Street comes just months after the city permitted the destruction of the landmarked Sasaki fountain at the Citicorp Center, and is yet another example of a public outdoor space the city could cede to a commercial interest.

Rockrose wants to take advantage of new zoning rules that would allow the company to fill in the public arcade on Fulton Street with retail and restaurants, reducing the public space by half.

When they were built in the 1970s, the Water Street Arcades were a covered network of walkways linking office buildings in the area, which extends three blocks in from the East River, north to Fulton Street and south to Whitehall Street. The arcades and accompanying plazas were built as tradeoffs that let owners build taller than existing zoning allowed. The target area contains 20 buildings, with 225,000 square feet of open plazas and 110,000 square feet of arcades. In exchange for building and managing these privately-owned public spaces, or POPS, developers near Water Street got to add more than 2.5 million square feet of extra floor area to their buildings.

In June 2016, the City Council approved a zoning change that opened up these spaces to commercial development. The Water Street Upgrades Text Amendment allows existing arcades to be infilled for retail and encourages "improvement" of existing plazas. In total, the new rules place more than 167,000 square feet of the POPS up for redevelopment.

The city maintains that the arcades are dull and underutilized because they push ground-floor retail away from the sidewalk, are obstructed by thick structural columns and poorly lit, and often terminate in dead ends. It also asserts that the plazas mostly open onto lobbies and feature little greenery, a combination that is uninviting to passersby. 

While some public spaces in the Water Street area do affirm these concerns, the ones at 200 Water Street are an exception. They originally featured exuberant public art, and are open to traffic on all four sides, a necessity for pedestrian circulation in an increasingly lively neighborhood.

From a design perspective, it would be hard to top the space's first incarnation, which was cool enough to land on the cover of Progressive Architecture (PDF) one year after opening.

The original owner was the Kaufman Organization, a New York developer known for above-and-beyond stewardship of its POPS. Emery Roth & Sons designed 200 Water Street (also known as 127 John Street) in 1971 as an office building in the International Style, but CEO Melvyn Kaufman playfully messed with its gravitas, ornamenting the glass curtain wall from street to roof.

"One twenty seven John Street is neither imposing nor distinguished in the usual sense of those words," said PA Associate Editor Sharon Lee Ryder. "It is imposing because you can’t forget it once you’ve been there and distinguished simply because there is nothing like it."

Designer Pamela Waters used roofing gravel to craft a cheerful cat chasing a bird on opposite sides of the seventh floor setback, an almost wraparound terrace. Viewed from above, it's clear that the terrace's gap permanently prevents the cat from catching its prey (though there's another wire mesh bird that covered the window-washing rig). On the roof, mechanical equipment was painted kindergarten colors and decked out in lights to illustrate water and air flowing through the HVAC system.

On the plaza level, metal benches in the same colors sat beneath Op Art murals that zigzagged through custom scaffolds all the way up to the edge of the sidewalk. Visitors could ascend the scaffolding to access seating on above the street. Around the corner at John and Water streets, Kaufman pasted mirrored walls onto two buildings that couldn't move for the 32-story tower's construction, while an inset digital clock on the Water Street side of the old building mimics the grid of the new tower. Melvyn Kaufman even installed a wax likeness of himself on one of the benches (it was removed after some unspecified "hostile reactions"). The arcade's whimsy, capped off by a water feature and a neon-banded purple-and-blue light tunnel to the inside, was meant to enliven a long walk from the main entrance on Fulton Street to the building's elevator bank.

Since the Kaufman Organization sold the building in the mid-1990s, the space's cheerily excessive amenities have given way to a boring plaza that some believe is willfully neglected. Today, most of the remaining art from the Kaufman days is in serious disrepair: the white scaffolding is a blank skeleton, stripped of its canvas, while the original pool and fountain are empty. (The impossible-to-miss Water Street clock now graces a Starbucks, in front of a well-maintained but unoriginal public space occupied by wood benches and concrete planters.)

Rockrose maintains that the Fulton Street arcade is beyond rehabilitation, and proposes restaurants and retail as a way to enliven the front of the structure, which it converted to rental apartments in 1996. As soon as the end of this month, the City Planning Commission could hear Rockrose's application to infill three of the building's POPS, totaling more than 4,700 square feet, per rules outlined in last year's zoning text amendment. The developer would like to add almost 1,800 square feet of new residential space in the double-height arcade facing Fulton, and on the ground floor, the plaza would lose about 3,000 square feet of public space. New York–based MdeAS is working with the developer to design the new spaces.

In return, Rockrose estimates it would receive $600,000 in annual rent from the new spaces. Members of Manhattan Community Board 1 (CB1), whose district includes the property, held meetings with Rockrose this summer to ask if the developer would consider compensating amenities. Rockrose refused, saying that, by law, it was not obligated to provide additional amenities.  

CB 1 maintains that building into the arcade could interrupt the flow of connected spaces that distinguish the Water Street POPS and its buildings from the rest of the neighborhood. Though the city contends that the plazas are underused relics from bad midcentury planning, lower Manhattan is in the midst of a development boom that's slated to bring more foot traffic at all hours to the traditionally 9-to-5 neighborhood. The intersection of Fulton and Water streets is a heavily-trafficked corner, the gateway to the South Street Seaport. Likewise, the South Street Seaport's restaurant and tourist revival, including a new mall at Pier 17 and ferry service from nearby Pier 11, herald an increase in pedestrian traffic at Fulton and Water streets at what is already a busy intersection. According to CB1, Rockrose hasn't submitted a pedestrian traffic study on the impact of enclosing almost 4,000 square feet of space at this corner.

At press time, multiple attempts to reach Rockrose for comment on its plans for 200 Water Street were unsuccessful.

Mindful of the precedent-setting nature of Rockrose's request, and its dissatisfaction with the developer's concessions, the community board voted the whole proposal down last month.  The board released a statement, "CB 1 should urge the owners of the site and all stakeholders to maintain and keep the critically needed open space at 200 Water Street open for the public's use consistent with the original agreement made between the developers and the citizens of New York."

In a March 2016 resolution, just before the City Planning Commission passed the Water Street zoning rules, CB1 recognized the property as distinct from its neighbors, and asked the owners to not enlarge chain stores, but instead offer the community additional benefits:

"Owners of properties similar to 200 Water Street, where the benefit to the property owner clearly outweighs the community benefit from plaza upgrades, should be required to provide benefits in addition to the plaza upgrade, such as enhancements to surrounding sidewalks and the nearby Pearl Street Playground. CB1 requests that the arcade infill at 200 Water Street not be used just to expand the existing large box retail, and prefers retail that positively activates Fulton Street." 

(Despite this shout-out, CB1 nevertheless supported the Water Street Upgrades Text Amendment last year.)

Multiple nonprofit urban advocacy groups have weighed in on Rockrose's proposal. In an open letter, the City Club of New York suggested Rockrose's "lack of enthusiasm" for maintaining the POPS was an aegis for redevelopment-by-neglect. "In this case, converting half the space of the POPS to rental floor area and reducing the area maintained for the public by half is clearly a win-win for the owner," it said. 

Echoing the City Club's statement, the Municipal Art Society praised the original character of the spaces, adding that “[the] plazas and arcade have been allowed to deteriorate to the point that, instead of preserving these valuable community assets, Rockrose stands to benefit from the loss of public space.” This is not the first time Rockrose's stewardship of public space has been in called into question. The original designers sued Rockrose back in 1996 over its alleged failure to maintain the plaza and its art, which Rockrose owns. The parties reached a court-approved settlement that required the firm to maintain the artwork in the POPS through 2011. In a brief, the plaintiffs' attorney, Robert Ward, described the significance of the agreement: “When the building was built back in 1971, the owners got a plaza bonus. They were able to build a bigger building because of the plaza. The new owners of the building want to build in that plaza, but they do not want to take some of the building down. That is an important issue in terms of balancing the equities.” There may be other options for reuse, though, that preserve the public space. In a letter to Marisa Lago, chair of the City Planning Commission, the group Friends of Privately Owned Public Spaces suggested three ways that Water Street Arcades could be creatively repurposed without reducing the total amount of public space. The owner could glass in an arcade to make a public interior and collaborate with a public entity like the New York Public Library for programming, or create a POPS with a food service component a la Lincoln Center’s David Rubinstein Atrium. As a last option, the owner could cede space to a city-run concession (like the ones operated by NYC Parks) whose proceeds would fund improvements to other POPS in the area.

At the earliest, the City Planning Commission could review the application on October 30, although no public testimony will be heard at that meeting. To comment on Rockrose's proposal, members of the public may email the commission at centralintake@planning.nyc.gov with the subject line "Application N 170284 ZAM 200 Water Street Arcade Enclosure." The commission's website is updated regularly, so readers should check back there for the latest hearing schedule.

Editor's Note: Last year, The Architect’s Newspaper sponsored a design charrette for the Water Street POPS to envision how they could become the vibrant gathering spots and successful corridors they once were. In May 2016, AN Managing Editor Olivia Martin also provided testimony opposing the Water Street Upgrades Text Amendment at a meeting of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises. Martin had no role in reporting, fact-checking, or editing this story. 
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An updated floodplain map may stop Water Street’s new developments in former POPS

Since the June approval of the controversial Water Street Upgrades Text Amendment, which opened up 110,000 square feet of underused, privately owned public space (POPS) for commercial use in exchange for community benefits, a snag has emerged: This same area is now included in the 2016 New York City Flood Insurance RateMaps (FIRMs) and developers will be held responsible for making sure new structures comply with the updated building requirements.

The Water Street Upgrades Text amendment applied to 17 buildings in the area enclosed by Pearl, South William, Fulton, South, and Whitehall streets. While opponents to the amendment believed it favored developers overmuch—it turns these POPS into more than 2.5 million square feet of potentially rentable space—it’s now looking less that way. In early October, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released new requirements for areas affected by flooding, expanding the number of areas needing flood insurance and requiring additional building specifications.

It is important to note that there are many areas in New York City, and in numerous other cities, that will be affected by the updated FIRMs—which have been in the works since 2008. The previous FIRMs were issued in 1983, and, over the past 36 years, the elevations identified as being in flood hazard zones have shifted across the UnitedStates. After receiving the new FIRMs, Mayor Bill de Blasio looked to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which develops the standards for many of New York City’s building and construction rules. The society recommended that New York City adopt the flood regulations issued by FEMA.

“The need for flood-proofing has been long understood,” said Jessica Lappin, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York. “What people are waiting on is clarity as to what the approved standards might be. Property owners along Water Street will make their own decisions about whether to take advantage of the changes once the impact of the regulations is clear. We do not think the costs of even the most demanding resiliency standards will deter anyone who believes the fundamentals of the plan make sense for them in the long term.”

Currently, the most obvious issue is how property owners will reconcile the new building requirement that storefronts must withstand floods as high as 12 feet with a previous law that specifies storefronts must also be made largely of glass. An easy solution would be to use aquarium glass—but the material’s high cost may deter developers from building. Might we suggest a new downtown aquarium?

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Taking stock after NYC lost its Water Street privately owned public spaces

After much debate, the New York City Council passed the Water Street Upgrades Text Amendment on June 21, giving 110,000 square feet of privately owned public spaces (POPS) to the developers and owners of 17 buildings in lower Manhattan to infill. These specific POPS are defined as arcades—covered pathways originally intended to offer pedestrians continuous coverage and protection in inclement weather and provide places of respite. In the 1960s, developers were given additional square footage in the floor area ratio (FAR) in exchange for providing these spaces to the public. However, when these spaces were created, there were different design preferences and standards than what we have today. The modernist arcades are devoid of ornamentation, offer varying degrees of sightlines due to the overhangs and columns, and have deteriorated over the decades. The amendment would allow commercial infill in these spaces, ideally to better serve the community than the arcades did.

Opponents believe that the developers will benefit overmuch, as they received additional FAR for originally providing the arcades, and will now receive them“back” for commercial use—potentially earning additional millions of dollars in rent. Community activists such as Community Board 1 member and architect Alice Blank have also voiced concerns that this will set “a precedent for the future conversion of public space for use as commercial space.”

However, Harvard professor Jerold S. Kayden, author of Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience, said, “I think it would be a mistake to view this as anything more than dealing specifically with the conditions of the Water Street POPS.” The New York Department of City Planning and the Municipal Art Society also worked on the book; together they evaluated over 500 POPS spaces in New York and issued five different classifications: destination, neighborhood, hiatus, circulation, and marginal.

According to Kayden, the majority of the Water Street arcades received a classification of “marginal.” “It’s hard to make the claim that stellar spaces are being removed. This should not serve as a precedent for any other space in any other place,” he said. “If a space is irredeemable as a public space and there is no benefit to continuing it as a public space, then one finding that I would be satisfied with is potentially removing it.” Kayden suggested that, considering how much the owners stand to gain to profit from the situation, the city is in a good position to receive community benefits from them in return. Additionally, said Design Trust for Public Space  fellow, urban designer, and planner Douglas Woodward, “Retail activation in POPS is a frequently used strategy, and some of the best and most successful POPS (e.g. the Rubenstein Atrium at the Lincoln Center, the IBM space on 57th Street, and 60 Wall Street) all have active retail.”

In the current amendment, the owners are responsible for revitalizing the nearby plazas to better serve the public, but exactly how that might play out is unclear. Our verdict? Watch these spaces—good things may or may not be coming.

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City Council subcommittee mercilessly sacrifices Water Street public spaces to developers

The City Council's Subcommittee on Zonings and Franchises voted yesterday to approve a proposal that would trade 110,000 square feet of Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) on Water Street to private developers. Although the Water Street Text Amendment will go before the full City Council on June 21, its passage in the subcommittee all but assures that the highly controversial measure will pass next week. The amendment will enable developers to build retail storefronts along 13 square blocks of the Water Street arcades (known as POPS) but the building owners will not be paying for the new spaces: Developers just will be on the hook for renovating the tower-adjacent public space and making the hardscaping stormproof. The Water Street arcades are a far cry from the ones in Walter Benjamin's Paris, but the lower Manhattan spaces still serve a vital public function. Like all POPS, they were a quid pro quo that let developers build taller towers in exchange for providing publicly accessible space for as long as those buildings existed. In May, The Architect's Newspaper launched a design charrette for the Water Street POPS to start a conversation around turning these mostly dreary and neglected spaces into vibrant gathering spots and successful corridors they once were. AN also provided testimony opposing the Water Street Text Zoning Amendment for a May 27 meeting of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises. Councilmember Margaret Chin, who represents the district that includes Water Street, initially opposed the amendment, but now, after negotiating a few modifications, Chin has expressed her support. (Although Chin isn't on the Zoning and Franchise subcommittee, she's the district representative, so custom provides her buy-in with weight.) Modifications include an exception for arcades larger than 7,500 square feet to go through a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) review. 6 of 17 plazas will consequently be subject t0 a more intensive review before development. Other changes include limiting the frontage of drug stores and banks to 50 and 30 feet, respectively. Chin later expounded on her decision: "This wasn't an easy decision to make. There have been many passionate voices that wanted this proposal to be rejected outright, or conversely, wanted the text amendment passed as is. After much deliberation, I came to the conclusion that neither option would give our community what it desperately needs and deserves: Improved public spaces in plazas and arcades, small-scale neighborhood retail, and innovative indoor public spaces," The Broadsheet reported. Alice Blank, architect and co-chair of CB1's Tribeca Committee, expressed her profound distaste for the decision: "Now, in behind-closed-doors meetings with the powerful lobbyists for the developers, the City is giving away these public spaces without ever gauging their true value and without obtaining any meaningful commitment from the developers to equitably compensate the public." The Land Use Subcommittee is set to vote on the amendment today.
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New York City Looks to Activate Public Space on Downtown Manhattan’s Water Street

After Hurricane Sandy swept through the east coast, it left Water Street, a sleepy corridor in lower Manhattan, even more deserted. But now, Department of City Planning (DCP) has proposed a zoning text amendment to enliven the quiet downtown stretch by allowing for seating, art installations, food trucks, concerts, and other such events and amenities on privately owned public spaces (POPS). Sprinkled throughout the city, POPS are unique public areas that are maintained by developers for public use in return for more floor space in their development. This slice of downtown is a mix of commercial and residential buildings, and has a shortage of amenities to offer residents and employees in the area. DCP hopes to change this and turn Water Street, extending from State to Fulton Streets, into a “Public Space Activation Area” for a variety of activities such as farmer markets, concerts, food tastings, festivals, cultural exhibitions, and performances for this coming summer, spring, and holiday season. The City Planning Commission green lighted the proposal back in April, and next City Council will make the final decision by June 29th. water_st_pops_map_01