Big Makeover with New Retail Proposed for Filled-In FiDi Arcades

Rendering of proposed Water Street front for 7 Hanover, with glass-enclosed entrances to a public passageway and food court running to Pearl, and to stores and a building lobby. Rendering: 100 Pearl Street/S9Architecture

May. 26, 2019

A dramatically altered streetscape is proposed for 7 Hanover Square in a plan meant to enliven the building’s nearly 13,000 square feet of privately owned public space.

The FiDi tower’s intended buyer, GFP Real Estate, has plans to enclose more than half of the building’s wide, covered walkways, known as arcades, and fill them in with retail uses on Hanover and Water Streets. A food court, with kiosks and public seating, would occupy what now is a largely barren through-block arcade between Water and Pearl Streets. Three-story glass street walls would frame and brighten the building’s two entrances, at Pearl and Water.

GFP Real Estate, which expects to buy the building in September and rename it 100 Pearl Street, is seeking Department of City Planning permission for the project under a 2016 zoning change that allows owners of the 20 buildings within a special Water Street district to enclose their public arcades and add commercial units as a way to bring more street life to the dark and uninviting spaces. In the 1980s, developers of the buildings included the public arcades as a civic giveback in exchange for the right to add more floor area to their new buildings than zoning allowed.

This is the second project proposed under the amended zoning. The first, at 200 Water Street, was heatedly debated at Community Board 1, which ultimately opposed the plan along with local elected officials and some community groups. (The city approved it but construction has yet to begin.)

Now the 7 Hanover Square plan appears headed for some of the same resistence when it comes before CB1 as part of a city-mandated review. GFP Real Estate representatives got a taste of that sentiment when they previewed the plan to CB1’s Executive Committee last week.

“You’re making it sound wonderful for the neighborhood,” committee member Bruce Ehrmann said during the plan’s PowerPoint presentation. “You’re not mentioning that you’re monetizing at least 50 percent of what was public space. Right? You’re privatizing and monetizing it?”

“I can tell you carte blanche we will not make money off of this endeavor. The reason we’re doing it is because it is good for the neighborhood,” said GFP Real Estate’s co-CEO, Brian Steinwurtzel. “And by making the neighborhood better we can attract tenants upstairs.”

“Retail is tough everywhere,” he added.

But what about fixing up the existing spaces, without adding a food court and stores, the project’s architect, John Clifford of S9Architecture, was asked.

“I have never seen a successful public space in New York City that didn’t have a program,” Clifford said, adding, “The eyes on the street, the activity, the reason to go there for a sense of enjoyment and safety and protection is generally what makes the public spaces survive.”

Committee member Tricia Joyce said she worries that the added amenity of seating along the walkthrough between Water and Pearl Streets, proposed as a local amenity, will be taken over by tourists and other food court customers. “I would want to make sure that if we’re really talking about a community giveback that we have clear areas that are not attached to retail,” she said.

“Anyone can sit in any of these places whether they buy something or not,” Clifford responded.

Infilling the arcades should be a “matter of last resort,” said Executive Committee member Reggie Thomas. But he called these arcades “a complete and utter joke,”

“I don’t know how the hell you program this thing without doing something like is being proposed here,” he said.

GFP says it will add 167 new seats and benches to the seven that are there now, as well as create 1,450 square feet of indoor public space plantings and bring in 10 to 18 food and beverage retailers. At least two new retail shops on Pearl Street and at least two on Water Street would be added.

An in-depth, discussion of the plan will take place at a future meeting of the board’s Land Use, Zoning and Economic Development Committee.